Ice road U-Haulers.

Wood Bison © by Manik.

Thursday afternoon the temperature was in the mid-70s as my helpers and I rushed to pack my worldly goods into the 14-foot U-Haul parked outside my Seattle apartment building. A few days later? Driving through snow on the frost-heaved Al-Can.

Things may alter.

Fortunately, that was snow that had already fallen. Driving on frost heaves in blizzard conditions would have been a lot more unpleasant than bouncing over those same white-covered bumps. I’ll take slippery over zero-visibility any day.

Sighted along the way: buffalo (four dead, a couple of dozen alive), elk, deer, caribou and sheep. Also the world’s largest goldpan and a Tim Horton’s in just about every town that was more than a wide place in the road.

Not that there were many of those. Driving through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory at this time of the year was scenic but also really quiet. Many roadside services are closed for the season, so God bless the government of Canada for placing outhouses every so often. (Metal seats on a chilly morning are very attention-getting, and better than coffee for snapping a person out of road-grogginess.)

On the bright side: Driving at this time of the year meant hardly any traffic and never getting stuck behind slow-moving RVs. And the countryside was flat gorgeous, especially as regards golden birch leaves against dark spruce. When the sun hit those leaves they lit up with a radioactive glow.

A really fast road trip

I didn’t linger long anywhere: left Seattle around 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 and rolled into Anchorage late Sunday evening. Not only was I anxious to get there, I was acutely aware of the need to turn another calendar page. Over and over I saw this sign along the Al-Can: “Carry chains after Oct. 1.”

The snow showed up near Kluane Lake, and the closer the truck crawled toward the Canada/U.S. border the more snow I saw. But by then it was sunny and the melt had commenced. The roadway was merely wet, not icy, albeit as up-and-downy in spots as  Class 3 whitewater.

On the Alaska side the Al-Can was completely dry and almost as deserted. Fun fact: After leaving Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, I didn’t see another traffic light for more than 700 miles.

I’d like to drive the highway again when I have time to pay more attention to the scenery, poke my head into museums and maybe take a hike or two. A friend suggested I ask whether U-Haul ever needs people to drive empty trucks back down south. That would be one way to do it, i.e., someone else would be paying for the gas.

This trip was not particularly frugal, but it was fun. I did cut costs (and save time) by bringing my own grub. Fridge and freezer leftovers turned into road food: meatloaf sandwiches and chicken sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, sliced summer sausage, butter and apples. I added a few other items: good bread (I’ll miss Panera), peanuts, M&Ms and Diet Coke. My landlady handed me a bag containing blueberries, orange juice, oatmeal cookies and more apples.

A cooler from Goodwill ($7.99) held the perishables and a gallon jug of frozen water kept them cold for a couple of days. After that I reloaded from a hotel’s ice machine. Given that I paid $149 plus tax for a room, I didn’t feel bad about relieving them of a couple of pounds’ worth of cubes.

What I did feel bad about was not having any Canadian currency to tip the housekeepers; they’ll have to exchange my U.S. money at the bank. Stupid tourists, eh.

Hello, Anchorage: I’m back.

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  1. mrs short

    i want to make that drive… someday! glad you’re safe & sound! have fun unpacking.

  2. I have been saying a couple prayers you made it.
    And the title is perfect. I’m still laughing about it and the metal toilet seat. That would be an adventure in itself!

  3. Kathy King

    So glad you had a safe trip!!! Let the adventures continue!!

  4. Hope you took pix. 🙂

    You must have flown low, road conditions or not. Distances in Alaska and that part of Canada seem SO far!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny About Money: I’m a lousy photographer so I took only one picture, of bison on the road — the lives ones, not the dead ones. Also had someone snap a picture of me next to the “Welcome to Alaska” sign on the border. Trouble is, I can’t find the cable that connects the camera to my computer. Maybe when I unpack.
      As for flying, yep, I did — was surprised how fast you can push a U-Haul. Hardly anyone else on the road, and long, flat stretches where any oncoming wildlife would be seen in plenty of time to stop.
      Next time I get to Phoenix perhaps we can have a writer’s meet-up.

  5. jestjack

    The crazy thing is with all the reality shows being filmed in Alaska, when you mentioned “White Horse” ….it seems almost familiar as it has been mentioned on several of the cable shows as a destination of departure location. $149….for a room?…did ya break a window or something? WOw …think I would have taken more than the ice…LOL. Best wishes… glad ya made it safe!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jestjack: That was actually $10 cheaper than the rate posted on the door card. It was in an an energy-boom town and thus I figured that the several nearby hotels would be just as much, if not more. And I was just exhausted, having been on the road for 17 hours. Ater asking for a better deal — and surprise! not getting one! — I shrugged and paid.

  6. Reta Davis

    Ah, Donna, you are indeed a brave and adventurous woman! So glad to hear you made it safely. Loved the frugal provisions which almost made up for the $149 motel room! As always, I am wishing you good times and plenty of cheer! Looking forward to more of your writing. Yer devoted fan, Reta

    • Donna Freedman

      @Reta: Aw, thanks. Keep reading for the latest on moose and frugality.

  7. Glad to hear you got there safe and sound! That is a long drive, even to hear about.

    I was fearing a more-exciting ice road story. When we were up in northern Wisconsin this summer a tour operator told a story about a man who decided to move a house out to Madeline Island on the literal ice road they use up there some winters, straight across the lake – but it was too heavy, and sank.

  8. Welcome back! Anchorage almost broke its record for earliest snow in September set back in, I believe, 1947. Snow fell that year on September 20th. Had a class in Anchorage on the 28th and the city looked like a winter wonderland, at least where I was on Abbott Road. Woo, hoo! Winter!!

  9. 25 years ago I made the drive from Seattle to Seward. I stopped for the night at Kluane lake right at breakup. I remember sleeping in the back of my truck and listening to the ice crack and creak. One of these days I’ll make that drive again … I can’t wait to do it.

  10. Forgive my lower-48 ignorance, but what killed the bison? They’re mountainous. But so glad you made it without running into or over any wildlife.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Karla: I’m assuming it was one of the many enormous trucks that deliver supplies to the province. A passenger car or even a pickup wouldn’t stand a chance, I think.

  11. Donna, also very glad you made it safely. Your journey reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about for a long time — over 30 years ago a close friend decided to begin a new life in Alaska. She sold nearly everything she owned except for a few precious possessions that would fit into her car, outfitted her car for the, I believe, unpaved AL-CAN and drove from Virginia to Fairbanks, Alaska. We kept in touch for some time, but we have now lost all contact. Here’s hoping you will always keep in touch with us, your online friends.

  12. Samantha

    That is awesome! Proud of you for following your heart and going for it. Although not envious of Alaska, its wonderful that you are happy.

  13. lostAnnfound

    Happy to hear you made it safely north, Donna!

  14. Somehow, this is a total surprise to me. I must have missed something in the sometimes chaos of my life and a barely functioning bathroom. Metal toilet seats? That is cruel, to say the least. Good luck!

  15. ImJuniperNow

    Eeegads. Don’t know if I’d have the courage to drive that far and that alone all by myself.

    Did you see any Mounties in the lovely scenery?

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: I saw one or two RMCP cars, but no actual uniformed officers. I kept expecting Dudley Do-Right to appear, however.

  16. I loved the update! Sounds like an exciting journey. I looked up some images of the ALCAN highway and the lake you mentioned….looks remote, wild and beautiful. Can’t wait to hear more about your new life!! So happy for you!

  17. The joy that glows through this latest post of yours….you obviously made the right move!

  18. Sorry you had to rush through without coming by for a meal – I’ve been wanting to meet you for years – but very glad you made it to Anchorage safely!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kate: I’m afraid I did have to outrace the snow, but I do appreciate the invitation. Perhaps I’ll get down to Vancouver in the next couple of years and can meet up then.

  19. I’m so glad you made it! And I second nancy’s comment: You sound happy. 🙂

  20. Glad you’re safe & sound! Can’t wait to read your Alaskan Adventures!

    Alaska’s on my “bucket list” & now I’m foolishly considering a road trip!

  21. Greetings from Fort St. John! Hope you found our stretch of the Alaska highway hospitable, for the 10 minutes it takes to pass our town! The weather has been surprising nice up here of late – usually we have snow by the beginning of September!

  22. I love reading about this drive. You are so awesome for doing it by yourself and in a 14 foot U-Haul.

    My ex and I drove the AlCan 34 years ago when the Canadian portion was gravel. The three days it took to drive were extraordinary. We saw moose, bears, everything; even had our truck stopped by a threatening moose who did it to let his cow and her baby across. Once the crossing was complete he let our truck continue. Kudos to you for doing this drive. I look forward to hearing about you and your life and thoughts in Alaska. You rock for how you do your life.

  23. Jersey Babs

    Whoo hoo! Glad to hear you’ve made it safe and sound. Sounds like a great time to drive the AlCan….. love the image of the birches. Hope the settling back in to life in the great white north is smooth and easy. Looking forward to your new adventures.

  24. Catseye

    I envy you, Donna. I’m currently not working because I accepted an early retirement package. I would so love to go on some kind of adventure, but I really need to knuckle down and get another job. Until I can truly retire, I’ll be living vicariously through you for the next decade or so.
    All I ask is that you live life to the fullest and then write about it. And keep giving out freebies, of course! ;o)

  25. I have been thinking of you and your upcoming journey. Glad you made it safely. I have started to see bumper stickers in these parts which say “Jersey strong.” While it is a cliche and will be overused to death, I think you epitomize that phrase in the way that you are living your life.
    We will be taking a cruise out of Anchorage next summer. I will be reaching out later to pick your brain about Anchorage-we will be there at least one night and maybe more. Maybe we could meet up if you are around?
    Not sure if you knew that Alaska Airlines flies to Philadelphia-we went on one of their flights this summer.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Beth C: I’d love to meet up again when you arrive. Definitely pick my brain, such as it is.
      And I’m very glad that Alaska Airlines flies to Philly still; when I lived here, you could fly Anchorage-Minneapolis-Philadelphia, a trip of only eight hours vs. 12 or more if you went through Seattle or Salt Lake City. Bonus: I have enough frequent-flier miles to fly there for Christmas. My sister is also attending. It will be a big, noisy family thing at my brother’s house with his grandkids (including the one he’s currently raising) and a chance to see my dad and stepmom again. Good times! (Loud ones, too.)

  26. Welcome back to the North! And just in time for winter.

  27. I was just telling some friends, and strangers at the vet’s, about your move back. Your locale always comes up when people see our dog as he looks like he might be a fellow native. (Maybe, maybe not.)

    What amazing time you made! So glad you got there safe and sound though chilled, bum up 😉

  28. Congratulations! I am so excited for you


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