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North to Alaska - News - bespk

North to Alaska

Posted on Sunday, 2nd September 2012 by Eunice

The Alaska Highway is notorious for its history, difficult terrain, areas of complete isolation and summer long road works as this is the only time they can undertake repairs.  On the plus side it is known for its beautiful scenery and varied wildlife.  It is one of the few ways to get into Alaska by road and so was obvious choice to take after leaving Edmonton.
Our journey to Whitehorse (1364 miles) took us seven long days, only stopping for food and sleep.  Once we reached Dawson Creek (the start of the Highway), the road became extremely busy with enormous lumber trucks (eight axles).  Needless to say they were not best pleased by having to slow down for a little yellow car, especially going uphill.  Fortunately Fort St John seems to be the centre for lumber manufacture and we only had to contend with large oil trucks for there up to Fort Nelson, (another booming oil town) except for those few delivering fuel further up the line.
We met many interesting people along the way;  modern day pioneers who have come out to make their fortune in the oil or construction industries, some hunters and folk who serve a vital role in providing food and shelter for travellers.   Those who live in more isolated areas seem to be fine until they have a health problem and find themselves 200 miles away from any help.  We were advised there are only two seasons in the area – winter and preparing for it.
As we travelled north the scenery became more dramatic, with deep glacial valleys, lakes and snow-capped mountains.  We saw moose, bison (buffalo), and a black bear by the roadside.  The distances between settlements got longer, the traffic that passed us diminished and there were a couple of days when we were very grateful to see signs of human existence.
As we were nearing the end of our journey on the highway we stopped to admire the view outside Tislin (the longest bridge on the highway).  It was then that we realised we had some broken spokes on a rear wheel.  We were lucky to find the local garage owner, who very kindly lent us his Jack so that we could change the wheel over for the spare so that we could get on our way.  We felt very fortunate as there were two other sets of travellers who had been waiting days/weeks for parts to repair their broken back axles.  Fortunately we did not have very much further to go and reached our destination safely, planning to go into Whitehorse the following day to fix the spokes.
This was achieved with the help of the tire specialists and the Yukon Motorcycle Centre, who allowed Guy to work under their canopy, out of the rain.  We then set off to the Motor museum to meet up with the original military vehicles who were celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the building of the Highway.  Some real old timers, who had been on the road for nearly three weeks and looking forward to getting back to their own beds.  We know how they feel.
Fortunately we were staying in a most wonderful inn, some 30 miles outside town, having not been able to find a room there.  The Inn on the Lake is  very special, offering charming and relaxed accommodation, excellent food and the company of several other fellow travellers and local people.  Meals were particularly enjoyable shared round a large table, with plenty of good stories and experienced to be shared.  The peace and tranquillity was unsurpassable, and proved to be well worth while after the previous ordeals. We thought we might see the Northern lights on our last evening, but sadly did not, despite having got up at 2am.  The stars were fantastic and well worth it.
After three glorious days we set off to climb the mountains and cross the White Pass into Alaska.  All was going well until we reached the top of the pass; the bleakest, loneliest, coldest area, when the back of the car seized up and we came to a stop.  Guy took the wheel off tried to sort out the cause.  Our main worry was that the back axle had broken and that we could not even be towed off the mountain.  We only had four hours (two of which were scheduled travelling time), before the ferry departed from Skagway and knew that we could not get on another one until the end of September as everyone else was escaping the area before winter set in.  However with some further thought and testing it out, he got things moving again. 
We free-wheeled down the mountain as much as possible, fearing that everything would seize up again and our journey down may be rather shorter and steeper than we had expected.  We may have faced a different sort of terminal to the ferry port.  The car was gathering speed all the time and when we came to the American customs we failed to stop (initially), which did not endear us to them.  We have never been so grateful for that tedious afternoon we spent at the American embassy in July.
Skagway is known as the port at the start of the Klondike gold rush and the home of the North Wind.  The only gold rush today is to the many jewellers’ shops in town from the passengers on large cruise liners that call into the port.  The North wind was certainly at home, blowing the wind socks horizontally and freezing everyone.   The crew at the ferry terminal came out to inspect and measure the car, not believing that it could be that small.  Once we got it on board we had time to think and try and resolve the problem.  

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