June 4: No internet for the last two days. We have covered Smithers, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and now Dawson. I’m running behind on blogs. We’ve had some long days; the run from Smithers to Watson Lake was 530 miles. We are now in the Yukon Territory and it feels like it. First, it is cold. Second, daylight lasts until midnight. And third, fuel stops are far apart, and fuel is not dependable. We nearly ran out when the stop we planned did not have fuel.
Lastly, towns are isolated (no urban sprawl here!), and definitely feel like outposts.
The weather has been a factor, too. We’ve had lots of on-again, off-again rain — sometimes mixed with snow. Then this; I was driving while Ed was navigating, and the windshield wipers quit. You may remember, back in the lower 48, that Ed disassembled the temporary repair the ERA mechanics concocted and replaced wiper parts that we had shipped in. All has been well since then, other than an occasional clicking noise. Ed knew that the fuse box had corrosion in it. He couldn’t see it, but he could reach it with his hand, under the dashboard on the driver’s side. He reached under, pulled the cover off, and started twisting fuses. The wipers started again.
Our scenery has been dramatic. I can’t begin to post all these pictures. On the day from Smithers to Watson Lake we saw seven black bears and a fox. Other drivers have photos of caribou and moose, but the rarest animal that I photographed was a black gopher. This little guy seemed to be very elusive, at least according to the photographers who were patiently waiting to get his photo.
Jan and Ed
June 6: The rally is over, but I have lots more to write. First, our trip to the Arctic Circle on the day off in Fairbanks. At one time, lots of the participants discussed going, but we set off alone on the morning of, later to be followed (and passed while having lunch) by the 1916 Lancia with Jan and Meredith.
How to describe the Dalton Highway that runs from Fairbanks to the Yukon River Camp (our lunch stop), on to the Coldfoot, and finally ending in Deadhorse? The title says it all. How do mosquitoes survive the Alaska cold? They must be a better breed than those that NC sports in the summer. As soon as you roll down the car windows, these eager, hungry buggers swarm inside. When you start to move, they commit suicide against the windshield. I cleaned the windshield so many times I’ve lost count, and the one time we were stopped (for 30 minutes) for road work, I even cleaned the facemask of our new motorcycle riding friend.
OK, that’s the annoying start. The route itself is perhaps half tarmac (my new British vocabulary), half gravel, and ALL potholes. It’s doable, certainly, but takes constant attention and dodging. I felt like this should have been part of our precison driving rally. We bought the Milepost guide to Alaska byways — sort of like the Yachtman’s Guide to the Bahamas — and the book warned about all the heavy truck traffic. It’s mostly tanker trucks on this “highway” that throw stones and gravel as they pass at high speeds. Well, that part was not really a problem. We encountered very few trucks, and most of the time we were alone enough to run right down the middle of the road.
Then there is the Alaska pipeline. You can see it for long distances, which is amazing. It runs all the way from Deadhorse to Valdez with 11 pump stations. Sometimes it is very close to the road. I wonder just how they protect it all those miles?
Then, of course, there is the mud. This road is built on permafrost, which explains the majority of the potholes and broken tarmac. Heavy, fast-moving trunks are responsible for the rest. Fortunately, it has been dry, and we only had short stretches of mud. We did get rain and hail on the way back, but even that was short-lived.
Was it worth it? Sure. One more adventure under out belts, and we even have shirts that say “Arctic Circle Club”. The entire round trip was just under 400 miles, and it took 12 hours. That did include photos opts, lunch and two cautionary fuel stops. You don’t want to run out of gas out there.
It was a tiring day requiring constant vigilance. Stewball handled the potholes well. No flat tires, no front end alignment problems. That was our day off before the final run from Fairbanks to Anchorage, but that will be a separate blog.
Jan, Ed and Stewball (who now boasts a sticker that says “I survived the Dalton Highway”)
Thanks, Stewball, for another wonderful road adventure.
June 7: No time trials today. This is the last day of the Trans-American Challenge. Tonight we have a final banquet and winners will be announced. We won’t win anything except the satisfaction of driving from NY to Alaska, making lots of new friends along the way and seeing parts of North America we have never seen. With our two day detour to North Carolina and one day out to have the oil leak repaired in Montana (Ed’s not at all sure this was necessary, but at the time, we had little option), we couldn’t have made up for all our penalties even if we had continued to run the time trials (which we didn’t). We weren’t willing to subject ourselves and Stewball to the fast speeds on gravel roads this rally requires. Some of the participants loved it, and equally loved putting their cars back together in the afternoon and evening. We will miss this eclectic group from all over the world.
Before I describe this last day to Anchorage, I must go back and describe the day from Dawson City to Fairbanks. This was certainly one of our most interesting days.
First, we all had to be ferried across the Yukon River on the north side of Dawson. This is the only way to cross; there is no bridge, and we had to queue with all the locals. Then we crossed the most northern border into Alaska at Poker Creek (which is only open from the end of May to mid-October), and drove the gravel Top-of-the-World “highway," which is named such because it winds up and down the ridge of the mountains and passes through the colorful three-building town of Chicken. (I have no idea where the few residents live!)
Once a gold mining town, this is a stop that defies description, but I will tell you they have the best homemade pies and sticky buns you will ever taste.
You already know how we spent our day off in Fairbanks — driving another 400 miles to the Arctic Circle.
This last day took us past Mt. McKinley. At 20,000 feet, this is the highest mountain in North America. Our lunch stop was supposed to be a great viewing area. Unfortunately, clouds covered the top so our view wasn’t spectacular, but the entire run was again set against snow-covered mountains nearly all the way to Anchorage.
On a first drive in, Anchorage appears very ordinary. The city is flat, laid out in a grid, and the architecture is plain. What makes the city impressive is the location — mountains on three sides, and the ocean on the fourth.
When the sun shines, everything sparkles and the outdoors beacon. I’ve come to the conclusion that either you love Alaska, or you hate it. It certainly stands apart from the lower 48. At this time of year, it is never completely dark, but I can’t imagine the long months of cold, snow and it never being completely light outside.
Initially, we planned to drive back to Chapel Hill (another 4,400 miles), but several days back, we changed our plan when we realized it would mean covering at least 400 miles a day to get back with only a day to spare before our flight to Paris. Even with highway driving, we had miles of mountain roads so we decided to ship Stewball back and fly from Anchorage.
Our flight was to leave Anchorage on June 12, but we quickly realized that we didn’t want to stay after the rally was over. When it’s over, it’s over. We changed our flight and drove Stewball to Alaska Auto Transport; they will put him in a container, then on a ship to Seattle, then transport him overland by truck with National Auto. We will not see him until we are back from Paris at the end of July. He has done well on this trip, putting up with rough roads, bad weather and approximately 10,000 miles of driving day after day. He performed much better, albeit slower, than many of the more expensive and powerful cars. We hope he has a quiet, restful trip back.
More from home,
Jan, Ed and Stewball
P.S. We hope everyone who bought “The Long Road to Paris” will enjoy it on their long flights back to Europe and beyond.