There was a time when driving the Alaska Highway was a major life event, an event that might alter ones personality. It was a brutal undertaking that could even be life threatening.
It's not so much any more but still, it was on our list, and maybe yours, too.
You know about the list. That list of things we just have to get done while we can, while we are young enough to enjoy them.
Our list — much like yours, I'm sure — is long, but mostly checked off. This one, driving the Alaska Highway, was a big item.
Had we known it was going to be so easy and so rewarding we might've done it sooner.
My wife, Thressa (newly retired), me (intent on catching a fish north of the Arctic Circle) and our Labrador retriever, Deke (happy to go anywhere except the vet's office) hooked up the fifth wheel camper this fall and drove north ready to check this big item off our list.
We had planned for every conceived problem that came to mind. From bear encounters to fuel shortages, from equipment break downs to a sick dog, we were ready. We ran into none of these.
What we did run into was beauty beyond description, fascinating wildlife we only dreamed of seeing, and people that will live in our memories forever, rugged independent people with hearts as big as the country they live in.
We had thought the Grand Tetons were the prettiest mountains we'd ever seen. In fact, we thought nothing could be more beautiful. Well, how about driving through hundreds of miles of scenery like that?
Day after day, no fences, no people, Alaska offered the pure beauty that rivals, if not surpasses, the Grand Tetons.
Miles of wonderful streams, glaciers nearing the highway, snow capped mountains reaching much higher than those in Colorado and deep blue lakes around the bends of the long, long road.
The road itself is nothing like we thought it would be. Back in the day, it would destroy vehicles by shaking all the nuts and bolts free, shredding tires and literally busting out windshields and headlights. Often cars or trucks could only make a one-way trip.
Now it resembles a good Oklahoma two-lane highway, at least most of the time. There is this freeze/thaw thing going on that causes what they call road heaves.
It ‘s sort of a roller coaster effect that the construction folks are constantly dealing with so construction zones will go on for miles. Care is suggested driving in the zones. But still, it is one unbelievable highway in some of the harshest environmental conditions on the planet.
At times wildlife seemed plentiful and at others almost none existent. We went through three of the four North American wild sheep habitats and saw all three; Dall sheep to the north, Big Horns to the south with Stones in the middle.
It was a big deal to me, lesser to Thressa and Deke could've cared less.
We saw lots of caribou and a few moose and bear. Wood buffalo were plentiful and elk in the southern parts of the journey seemed common.
We would stop in small towns and villages for gas or supplies and just to meet people. I remember going into very small sporting goods store, talking to the older gentleman that ran the place about his various products. I also asked him about the buffalo I was seeing.
“Sir,” I said, “I see these Wood buffalo around and I really can't tell. Are they larger or smaller than a normal buffalo?” referring to the plains buffalo back here in Oklahoma.
“Sir,” he said with a frown, “a Wood buffalo is a normal buffalo.” I never learned about the buffalo but I felt small.
Perhaps Aldo Leopold, or David Thoreau or John Muir could have more properly put into words the sights of our journey. Perhaps they could have aptly described the man in the sporting goods store or the beautiful animals along the fabled highway.
Neither Thressa nor I can do them proper justice and we're OK with that, because all these things along our 9,200-mile journey are burned into our memories.
And maybe, just maybe, this trip along the Alaska Highway did alter our personalities just a little.
We know the only true way to fully appreciate the adventure of the Alaska Highway is from personal experience. Load up, buckle in and drive it.
And we now know it's not all that hard for anyone to check off their bucket list.
Did you know?
*The Alaskan Highway was built during World War II to connect the contiguous United States with Alaska through Canada. It was opened to the public in 1948.
*The 1,400-mile road begins at the junction of several Canadian highways in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and runs to Delta Junction, Alaska, via Whitehorse, Yukon.
*The road is now paved but once was considered treacherous to travel.