Road Trippin’ Through the Yukon
This adventure starts in a 10×20 storage unit in a sketchy Anchorage suburb with a dead car battery. I was at step 3 in a meticulously crafted plan that had an amazing amount of possibilities to go wrong. Fresh off the earliest flight from Juneau, I had less than 36 hours to drive my car north to Tok, down through the Yukon, and back into Alaska to catch an afternoon ferry from Haines to complete the loop in Juneau. Did I mention I had I flight the morning after to New Orleans? I only had myself to blame. The plan was a blatant affront to Murphy’s Law, and while picking up my car and worldly belongings from the storage facility it had spent the winter in, I conceded if there had to be a small disaster, this wasn’t the worst possibility.
A couple hours and some daisy chained jumper cables later, I pulled out onto Alaska Route 1 with some 700 miles stretching out ahead of me. Passing through the familiar backdrop of my life last year gave me an uneasy sense of time travel, so I queued up the perfect road trip playlist and got the hell out of dodge. The river plains of the Knik, the Chugach Mountains, Matanuska Glacier blurred in my rear view window. By my third podcast and last reserves of car snacks, I was pulling into Glennallen for a stop at my favorite unlikely thai food truck. Why there’s a thai food truck in remote interior Alaska, I don’t question.
I pushed on, blowing through the northernmost point of my trip in Tok with a mandatory gas station junk food stop. It was two hours from sundown. Finally, as I cycled through all my downloaded songs for what felt like the 8th time, I flashed my passport at the border and coasted on a sugar high into Canada. As the sun set over white-blanketed hills, I passed two of the biggest moose I’d ever seen knee deep in snow on a frozen lake. Canada, eh?
My concerned parents had appointed themselves my remote copilots, and scrambled to find a place for me to stay as I pulled into Beaver Creek. To call it a town is generous. After a few failed attempts at finding somewhere that was both open and had rooms, I walked into the 1202 Motor Inn Fast Gas. And yes, it was just as classy as it sounds. Winter nights are long and cold in the Yukon, and I woke up several times to watch the faint glow of the aurora beyond the streetlights.
First light in the Yukon greeted me with -26 degree temperatures. I pealed out of town and spent the rest of the morning virtually alone on the road. Just me, the endless canvas of rolling hills and trees as far as the eye could see. It was a Robert Service poem come to life.
Valleys turned to mountain passes as I crossed over rivers and barreled past the one of the most wide-open landscapes you can find in North America. I stretched my legs among well-bundled Canadian families in Kluane National Park. I gave a ride to help out a stranded group of skiers whose van was stuck in a ditch. Without a hope for cell service for hours in each direction, they reminded me that the safety of my warm, over-packed car was precarious—just some glass and metal separating me from the wild, wild Yukon. By the time I saw signs of civilization again, I let out a sigh of relief.
The scenery only grew grander as I crossed back into Alaska, and drove the winding highway to its in end in Haines. Along the road, milky glacial rivers dotted with eagles meandered the same direction as I did: to the coast.After rolling into Haines with an hour to spare, I stopped at a cafe for a much-needed burrito then pulled in to position to load my car on the ferry. By some small miracle, my harebrained plan had fallen into place. As I rolled down my window to hand over my ticket, the collector eyed my Colorado license and said something that stuck with me.
“You know, where you’re headed, there are no roads leaving.” The more I think about it, the more I hear it as a promise rather than a warning.
Ferry travel is one of my all time favorite things about Alaska. With my car safely tucked in the cargo hold, I staked out a spot on deck. The wind whipped by, temperatures stubbornly stuck in the mid-thirties, but the sun was out so so were half the passengers. Sprawled on lawn chairs across the top deck, wrapped in sleeping backs and toting bundled babies, books, snacks, the Alaskans were easy to spot. Even when the skies faded to black, I stayed out under the heat lamps and stars, looking for the lights of a city to guide us back from what felt like the edge of the world.
“Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling…let us go”
― Robert W. Service,