Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alaska Highway at Last

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On Monday the good ship Columbia deposited us in the small town of Haines, Alaska for the real start of our driving trip. We headed north, crossed into British Columbia and, finally, settled in a little place called Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, our first stop on the iconic Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway (aka Alaska Military Highway, Alaska-Canada Highway and ALCAN) represents an amazing feat of engineering and construction. 
Constructed in 1942 as a land link to Alaska during World War II the road traverses 1523 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska. History buffs can click HERE for details but suffice to say, it was a herculean task over some of the most challenging real estate in North American. 11,000 U.S. troops fought mud, ice, permafrost and mosquitoes to complete the task in just seven months, less time than it takes to write an environmental impact statement today.
Over the past 70 years wooden bridges have been replaced with steel and concrete, curves have been straightened, slopes have been flattened and gravel replaced by asphalt so the current traveler faces little challenge. But it is still a long, long road and, except for summer months, services are widely spaced.
Our 300 mile stretch today, from Haines Junction to Tok, Alaska took us through beautiful country along the shores of Kulane Lake in weather that ranged from clouds to sun and rain to snow while keeping the temperature hovering below 40 degrees at all times.

Suggestion: I recommend a wonderful book that will give you a feel for life in small town Alaska. “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name” by Haines author Heather Lende is available at Amazon.

The Reids trip north begins
A Traveler’s Tale: In 1947 my brother-in-law’s parents, Gib and Eileen Reid, loaded their worldly possessions onto a war surplus jeep with trailer and drove the muddy Alaska Highway to Anchorage and a homestead life. He was a war veteran and she was an English war bride who had never been out of England. Their story, The Reid’s 1947 Trip to Alaska, is an easy read with pictures.

Factoid: The borders between the U.S. and Canada do strange things in the north land. During our trip we will cross the border six times.

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