Eau Claire to Alaska

My move to Alaska was an adventure! Starting with a job offer, I did my first moving sale. The week of sorting and pricing was beautiful weather for Eau Claire, Wisconsin in early April. The highs were pushing 70. However, the day before the moving sale, things changed dramatically. We shoveled 2 inches of snow from my lawn the morning of the sale – perhaps a harbinger of things to come. The sale went well and with a newly lightened load and a brand new KZ Kargo trailer purchased from Goodrich Trailers in Durand, WI, I was ready to go.

I took off from Eau Claire, the morning of April 29th for a short haul up to Wheaton, MN, to visit friends and to make sure the load handled well. The day was perfect for long distance travel with a temperature in the 60s and slightly cloudy conditions. With the load I was carrying and with 140,000+ miles on my truck, I wasn’t about to try the air conditioning. The rig was set up perfectly. The Jimmy cruised well at 70 mph (when the roads would allow), and the trailer tracked well. The downside was the gas mileage. I averaged less than 12 miles per gallon. And with gas princes in Canada over $3.00 per gallon US in places, I probably funded an oil executive’s golden parachute!

After an overnight visit just outside White Rock, SD, the trip began in earnest. The first day out was from White Rock, SD to Grand Forks, ND on I-29, then west on Highway 2 to Minot, then Highway 53 through Portal where I crossed over into Saskatchewan. The boarder crossing was pleasant and another reminder of how nice Canadians are in general. The first few miles in Canada were through a rather dismal stretch of coal (probably lignite) strip mines. My route went through Regina and Saskatoon, and ended up in Radisson, Saskatchewan for the night for a total of over 800 miles for the first real day.

The next day started out great and I made good time until I hit a bad traffic jam in Edmonton, Alberta. By the time I hit Whitecourt, I had a strong headwind and at Grande Prairie, it was obvious that I was heading into weather. It was snowing fairly heavily when I pulled in to Dawson Creek and mile one of the Alcan Highway. It was just getting dark when I stopped 60 miles later in Fort St. John for the night.

The next day dawned with flurries, but it seemed OK to push on. It rapidly became a lot worse and snow began pile up on the road. The rig was real stable going uphill, but I was plenty nervous about going downhill. I took a break at mile 101 (Wonowon) to check the road conditions. Good thing I did as the greyhound bus station/gas station/restaurant/motel called ahead and got a report of vehicles all over the road past Pink Mountain. After a four hour wait, the road looked clear and I pushed on to Fort Nelson. Good thing I waited as some of the downhill sections (especially at Sikanni Chief ) were hairy even with clear roads. The stretch between Wonowon and Fort Nelson was very scenic and I saw a lynx (or maybe a bobcat) crossing the road at the summit of Pink Mountain. It was on this stretch that I paid the highest for fuel – 98 cents (Canadian) a liter!

It was clear the next morning when I left Fort Nelson. By the time I was most of the way up to Summit Pass, I was traveling with 6 inches of snow on the road. The lodge at Steamboat was closed, but the parking lot was full and I could see a car stopped at the next bend in the road. I pulled in just before the road was closed due mostly to a van that slid sideways into a big rig. The poor van bounced off the truck and was hit by a couple more rigs before it was over. I spend another four hours holed up at the Steamboat Lodge. No power, but a good wood stove for tea! By the time the wrecks were cleared from the road, the road was bare again and I pushed on to Laird Hot Springs for a soak in the beta pool (the hottest) As you can see from the photos, it’s a terrific stop. I finished the eventful day in Watson Lake. During the stretch from Steamboat to Watson Lake I saw elk, moose, caribou, mountain goat, bison, bald eagles, black bear, and my first sighting of a wolf in the wild!

The next day was a shorter and uneventful jaunt on to Whitehorse where I stayed with friends and took a short breather. Whitehorse was every bit as nice as I remembered.

The final day was a long push from Whitehorse to Anchorage. The roads were the worst of the entire trip and were probably worse in Alaska than in Canada. This was the only section of the road that had unpaved sections and this was only because of road construction. I had only a minor technical problem at one point when I hit a larger than normal bump in the road and the trailer light cable came unhooked and dragged under the trailer until I stopped for gas mile later. So, it was on to Anchorage with no right turn signal. (Noting how testosterone filled and generally crazy the drivers are up here, I’m sure no one even noticed!) I had another delay on the Parks Highway a hour outside of Palmer due to major road reconstruction due to earthquake damage. Just after traffic resumed, snow hit again, but the roads remained clear until I got low enough in elevation for the snow to turn to rain and then sun. From Palmer, it was an easy hour into Anchorage.

Finally, over 3,400 miles down the road, I pulled into Anchorage at 10:00 pm with still plenty of daylight left.

I hope you enjoyed the travelogue!



Click the photo for a larger version.

This was taken in Juneau during meeting with my organization just before moving. This is also Juneau. I'm at the bottom of Mendenhall Glacier. 50 years ago, this rock was covered by the glacier.
A closeup of the glacier.
Loaded up and ready to go in Eau Claire, WI Visiting friends Vernon & Viola Ehlers in Boyceberg, MN. (Suburb of White Rock, SD) Snowbound in Steamboat, BC
Parking lot is full. View from Liard Hot Spring off Alcan Highway in British Columbia Yours truly before jumping in at Liard Hot Springs
View from pull off at Kluane Lake in the Yukon