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.