Thursday, October 12, 2017

usbackroads--Thoughts on Traveling to Alaska

usbackroads--Thoughts on Traveling to Alaska.

I have been to Alaska several times before courtesy of the Forest Service, but had never driven the Alaska Highway to Alaska until this trip. I am 155 miles from the Canadian border in Wenatchee. It is the same distance to San Francisco as it is to the start of the Alaska highway from Wenatchee. Since I grew up in the Bay Area I always thought it would be no big deal to drive north into Alaska.

The total distance on our trip was 6850 miles from our driveway into Alaska and back down to Wenatchee in about 55 days. That equates to 125 miles on the road EVERY day. The rule of thumb for RV'ing is 200 miles a day maximum. I would like to have one day on the road for every two spent exploring an area. So from my perspective for a our trip I should have taken 110 days to do the trip. I did it in 55 days which was way to short. It felt like I was on the road all the time.

Go to a mapping program and put in your proposed route. Get the mileage and divide by 200 miles. Now triple that number and that gives you the number of days for a enjoyable trip with out time to explore and enjoy northern British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska.

IF this is a once in a lifetime trip don't forget to go by the Canadian Rockies and plan on spending at least a couple of weeks there. The Canadian Rockies are like few places on earth. Don't speed by them heading for Alaska. The scenery is much grander in the Canadian Rockies.

The Alaska Highway passes through a "extensive wilderness". That is lots and lots of country with nothing special. Then some really cool spots. Remember the Alaska Highway was not built as a tourist highway. It was built as a rush job to get military supplies and men to Alaska before the Japanese conquered it in World War II. It is basically I-5 with one lane in each direction instead of two and no off or on ramps. Didn't see a one on the entire length of the highway.

I would carefully plan places to drive and make miles and places to stop and savor the country. Hmm, I will make it a complete separate blog posting.

I was always much more impressed with British Columbia and the Yukon than Alaska. After looking carefully at a map I believe most people would be much off splitting the trip into two and doing it in separate years.

The first trip would be northern British Columbia and the Yukon. This trip I would go to Prince George and head up to the Watson Lake via the Stewart-Cassier Highway. This is what the Alaska Highway was years ago. It is a 1,000 miles from start to finish plus you have to get to the starting point. That takes a few miles. From Haines I would double back to Dawson City and probably make the trip up the Dempster Highway until I got bored or reached Inuvik. Then I would return to Whitehorse and do the Alaska Highway back to Dawson Creek. That in itself is a LOT of miles.

The second trip would be Alaska. Pay the money and take the Alaska Ferry through the inland passage. Be sure to stop and  spend some time in Ketchikan, Wrangell Petersburg, Juneau and ending up in Valdez or Whitter. In the Escapees magazine there was an article on paying the RV fee and comparing it to driving up the Alaska Highway and it is a push.

You can also do the marine portion earlier in the year since the weather is much milder in south-east Alaska than the interior. I would definitely do Homer and the Kenai Penninsula,  Valdez, the Denali-Richardson highway, Anchorage (particularly the 1964 earthquake damage south of town, Vadez and Fairbanks. I would be tempted to drive the Dalton (Pipeline) Highway to the Arctic Ocean, but the word it is an adventure than is not that special. Then I would head back down the Alaska Highway to the lower 48. Take the ferry up and drive down. That way, you are not worried about making your ferry connection and can explore at your leisure.

By splitting the trip over two years you get enough time to really explore the northwest part of the North American continent.

Alaska and northern Canadian wildlife is one of the special things about visiting this part of the world. Wildlife in can be split into two categories. Category ONE is wildlife that will kill you and maybe eat you dead. Primarily bears. Though there are plenty of things besides your own stupidity that can kill you. A friend took a very similar trip in late May and early June and raved about all the wildlife he saw. IF you want to see wildlife, go once the valley's melt out and the high country is still covered in snow. Everything will be down and moving along the road.

Category TWO is wildlife that sucks the blood out of your system. Namely the mosquito. Remember that friend that raved about all the wildlife in the paragraph above. Well he also on occasion bicycled at high speed just to get away from the mosquito's. He also would every few days kayak out in the middle of a large lake just to get away from them!!! He said it was awful. My trip, arriving in the north country by late July was pretty much free of buzzing. A few place, but nothing much out of the ordinary.

So those are your choices. Wildlife and mosquitoes or less wildlife and fewer mosquitoes. Be honest about your tolerance for mosquitoes. Alaska is different. There is a reason why it is the state bird. Here is a short video:  A friend of mine was a helicopter pilot working the fires in Alaska's bush country. Every few days everybody in fire camp would wander a ways out of camp and he would hoover with his helicopter  so that the prop wash would blow away the mosquitoes and the fire fighters could have a few minutes without bugs. Thirty-five species and almost all want some of your blood.

Have a plan for dealing with them.

I will cover detailed planning for the trip, must have supplies and equipment, and must stops in future postings.


Sondra said...

All good advice....I have only visited Ontario but Western Canada is on my radar...I recall sitting around a camp smoke near the Arctic Circle swatting mosquitoes at midnight, since it didn't get dark and when it did only like twilight for a couple hours the bugs never took a break. We flew into Alaska in that trip, and brought all our camping gear with us in our backpacks. Up in Denali we had no skeeters but lots of bear.

Vladimir Steblina said...

I wish I had been able to drive past the National Park Service roadblock. For those planning a trip to Denali there is really no point to going there unless you get a permit to camp past the "tourist" barricade.