My name is Gus, but for the sake of authenticity, and the most precise summary of our week prior, allow me to be Frank regarding ‘Mile 0’ of the Alaska Highway. For shits, let’s start with what it isn’t.
‘Mile 0’ of the Alaska Highway is not in Alaska! At first, I thought the signpost to be one of those cheesy roadside attractions, you know, like the ‘World’s Largest Apple Basket’ – which sadly is a real thing. (It’s in Frazeysburg, Ohio. If it sounds juvenile, well, it’s even more life-sucking when you witness it. You’re welcome for adding time to your life).
Back to the road.
Dad loathes these tourist stops. So when he stood in the middle of the highway for a snapshot of such futility, I 1). Watched in angst for his safety, and 2). Realized it wasn’t the prank I hoped for. Welcome to ‘Mile 0.’ Just kidding! Welcome to Alaska, you’ve come a long way. That was my hope.
We were, in fact, still in Canada, Dawson Creek to be precise, a forgettable place some 1,500 miles from the Alaska state line – the supposed-to-be 46th notch on my collar.
To call this milepost gut-wrenching would be a gross understatement. But to say it didn’t fuel us forward would be a grand miscalculation.
(Speaking of fuel and grand miscalculations, boy do I have a story for you. Same day too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that’s two breakfasts, a lunch and a matinee lamb crisp into the future).
5,391 miles in three weeks is no small feat, I’m aware. No one said the road to Alaska was paved with pixie dust – though it’d be nice if it was paved in its entirety. Grit and grind (and I guess, gravel) are prerequisites for the fulfillment we seek. Betty will tell you; the tread on her tires is all too evident, and goddammit, it won’t be had for nothing… we’ve come too far!
See? I told you I’d be Frank.
As for the drive, we modeled it after some dead guy’s quote. Umm… “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That’s the one. I hate to piggyback on Eastern clichés, but there isn’t enough sleep to get there on naps alone. Plus, the potholes are like alarm clocks on asphalt.
Which brings me to the physical state of the road.
The Alaska Highway is not a lap around suburbia. There is rarely, if ever, a smooth shot, let alone a straight one. There are no exits, only shoulders, and a healthy dose of eroding terrain.
And since I’m being Frank, uh, what’s with the speed limits Canada? For a proudly progressive nation, your speed limits, or (cue the French accent) “maximums,” are more conservative than George W. at a fundraiser in Dallas. In America, we’d just park it.
Now, now, I’m being a sour traveler, but seriously, they’re quite underwhelming. What’s not underwhelming is the scenery. So let’s deviate into the beauty of the drive.
The Alaska Highway is all that’s right about the natural world. The smell of the pines, the crisp air, the hue of the lakes and the rivers. Oh Canada, let me count the ways your waters zig and zag.
Then there’s the wildlife, which I’m not exactly fond of but do admit to its intrigue. Dad and Betty have given moose, foxes, elk, caribou, sheep and deer the right-of-way. No bears like last summer, but far too many ravens. I understand their sacred significance, but let’s call a spade a spade: they’re loud and they’re ugly.
The weather on the Alaska Highway is the real wild card of it all. Itinerant clouds erase blue skies. It rains a lot too; every couple of hours, which only augments the intensity. I pray daily for dad in his seat. At night, I curl by his sleeping bag for warmth and in gratitude.
If there’s one thing to micromanage on the Highway, it’s gas status. In such a remote part of the globe, stations are few and far between. Day one, 300 miles in, and guess who starts to feel frail? Betty.
As a disclaimer, dad is the ultimate gentleman when it comes to Betty’s tank. Rarely does it plunge beneath halfway. For whatever reason, between the clamoring rain and kilometer conversion (dad’s math is worse than my breath), he chose the Alaska Highway for the scare of the century.
Then, when all hope felt lost, and Betty’s gauge closer to “D” than “E,” a lone pump behind a lone log structure sprouted from the mountains. (And this is why you commune with the road gods). The clerk confirmed our desperation when reading the receipt.
“Wow, that’s as high as it gets out here. You must have been on fumes.”
“Yeah, I thought we were toast,” dad said. “That’d be a story. What happens then?”
“Oh, at least a 5-hour wait… $500 tow too.”
Dad took the lesson in stride, but not before he apologized to Betty. I’m not complaining, dad emerged from the gift shop with a bag of freshly chopped bacon treats.
Our long first day on the Alaska Highway ended 50 miles down the way. We whiffed at two campsites before settling in at Muncho Lake, British Columbia – a glorious spot in the northern Rockies. That’s when a gold miner on his way home from Alaska grabbed dad’s ear in the parking lot. Not the best timing, but dad listened.
From Colorado… drinking Bud heavy… stitches on his nose… killed a wolf up North. His story melted when dad spoke of our journey.
…”yep, we call it Fetch in 50.”
Silence. Softness. A child’s smile.
Dad found his sweet spot.
A few moments later, I found mine. After a long and bumpy day, dad veered for a cove. The bonus of traveling vertical this time of year is the light of the night. Dad clicked my leash and cocked his arm.
The water never felt so good.