This 848 mile trip was one of the most awe inspiring drives that I have ever experienced.
Between the moose, the huge brown bear, sketchy roadside outhouses, time dated gas stations and the endless surrounding beauty, I was totally mesmerized the entire way. The drive that I thought would drag on forever, went by in a flash.
Time to go
My work contract had ended in Juneau after seven months and the next one was set to begin in Anchorage. I opted to drive rather than ferry my car, because I wanted to experience the journey through the Yukon (and because the ferry was so expensive and takes forever to get there). I have to admit the thought of driving alone through vast wilderness, with no cell phone service, and hundreds of miles between service stations and civilization, was a little (actually a lot) intimidating, to say the least.
The Ferry Ride
The only way to get out of Juneau, Alaska is by boat or plane and since my car’s too big to check, there I was at the ferry terminal, at 4 am, after maybe a three hour nap.
The departure was set for 6 am and they required you to be there at least two hours early to line up in areas designated by drop off locations.
After a two hour wait in the parking lot, it was finally time to board the “Alaska Marine Highway” ferry, the “Malaspina” for the four hour boat ride to Haines.
The route to Haines was a beautiful, picturesque journey up the Lynn Canal.
At 2,000 ft. in depth, the Lynn Canal is the deepest fjord in North America and one of the deepest and longest in the world. It is surrounded by beauty, and if you are lucky you may spot some whales along the way.
I was, unfortunately, not that lucky this time.
The seating area on the “Malaspina” offers amazing views from the inside and you are allowed to walk around the entire outdoor deck as well. It was a little bit chilly and a lot windy so I didn’t spend much time outside. I did wander out a couple of times, but it was short and sweet.
I had planned on sleeping on the way to Haines, but that didn’t work out so well for me. I think the idea of the trip ahead, that included a lot of excitement with some mixed in apprehension, kept me awake… along with the uncomfortable seats. Comfy to sit in but not an ideal sleeping arrangement. The guy in front of me was sleeping on the floor, under the seats, using his backpack as a pillow. Not a terrible idea, actually.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I took a walk around the ship and admired some of the artwork on the walls. There were fascinating paintings that, by the looks of them, had most likely been hung when the ship was originally launched in 1963.
Sleeping Arrangements For Long Hauls
There are rental cabins available on board for people who spend several days traveling to their destinations and want an actual bed to sleep in.
On the top deck of the ship, there are reserved spaces, some under a heated canopy and some out in the open, for travelers that prefer to camp. You are welcome to set up a tent for no additional charge. This would be perfect for a summertime adventure, for sure.
It wouldn’t be my first choice during the winter months, although there are “hard core” people out there that do it.
The Food Service
The ferry has a full service cafeteria on board, and the food was pretty decent. You also have the option of bringing your own food on board with you, if you like.
I went down to the cafe for breakfast and coffee around 8 am. Little did I know that this was going to be my last “real” meal until 10:30 pm. Not that I didn’t have a large stash of junk food loaded up in my car.
Arriving into Port
On the way in we passed the cruise ship dock off in the distance. Since the tourist season is winding down there is only one lonely ship in port, but the summer months are extremely busy for little town of Haines.
After what seemed like a long four hours, we finally made it to the ferry dock.
After disembarking I pulled over to get a picture of the wonderful “Malaspina”.
Farewell….until next time.
Welcome To Haines
Now, off to Haines and the beginning of an incredible journey.
Haines is a bustling and fun little town, with so many cute shops, restaurants, and a lot of other fun things to do, especially during the tourist season.
But more on that later, it’s time to get on the road!
Speaking of roads, there is only one leading out of Haines, and this gas station stop, on said road, is a must.
My tank was almost full but I wasn’t taking any chances, gas stations are few and far between through Canada, so I stopped to top it off. The last thing I wanted to do is run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
I stood at the pump looking for the credit card slot. Nope, no credit card slot. So…I went inside to pay for some gas and a cup of coffee (out of the dreaded glass coffee pot), that may or may not have been sitting there for a very long time. I’m leaning towards may have.
This sadly would become an all too common theme along the way.
The little old man behind the counter took my money, proceeded to walk out ahead of me and started pumping my gas. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this happen. Apparently full service gas stations still exist…who knew.
Either that or he saw me looking at the pump earlier, with a puzzled look on my face, and thought that I wasn’t smart enough to use it.
With my crappy coffee in hand and a full tank of gas, I headed out toward the Canadian border.
The Canadian Border
40 miles later I arrived at the border crossing.
Here is where I lost the only form of self defense that I had for my lone treck through Canada.
I had made sure to fully charge my stun gun and had placed it in the center console.
I was going to be all alone out there and who knows what could happen, it’s good to at least have something, right?
Apparently it’s wrong.
The border patrol officer came out of the screen door of the little “border patrol shack” and up to my car window. After checking my passport and asking what my business was in her country (like they always do), she proceeded to ask if I was carrying any guns. I of course said no and was going to leave it at that before she added “or weapons of any kind”. Ugh. After watching the car in front of me get pulled to the side and searched (probably just random), I thought twice about a non disclosure.
I’m not trying to go to jail in Canada.
Not today Canada. Not today.
I confessed to my stun gun only to find out that they are not legal to carry through Canada. Just my luck.
I then had to sign a form and surrender my only weapon.
She was very nice about everything, not that it help much. Ironically, she told me to have a safe trip, right before I drove away. How am I suppose to do that now, I wonder.
Anyway, I made it through the border and was off. Unarmed and into the unknown.
The trip, from the border, began in British Columbia, until I reached mile 87.5 where I crossed into the Yukon Territory.
The scenery was breathtaking and totally amazing. It’s hard to put in words how really beautiful it was. It was pretty therapeutic being out there, listening to music and contemplating life.
You will never feel more alone in the world than you do out here. Just you and nature and maybe an occasional passing car or two.
Into The Yukon
I didn’t stop to take pictures so most of them are on the fly and through the windshield. I just snapped away and sorted them out later.
Pictures do not do any of this justice. It’s something that you just have to see for yourself to truly appreciate.
151 miles from Haines, Alaska, is Haines Junction, Yukon. It’s not much more than a four way stop with a convenience store and gas station.
Time to refill the coffee and the gas tank. It’s gonna be a while until the next opportunity comes along and I had been told several times to never pass up a gas station. The fear of being stranded in the Yukon is real.
It felt good to have a brief interaction with civilization and I finally had a cell phone signal, so I sent out a couple of texts to confirm that I was alive and well.
Haines Junction To Beaver Creek
Off again, into the wild blue yonder. At least the coffee was a little better this time.
I was definitely on “the Route De L’Alaska”, although it would be a while before I got there.
A word about the bathroom stops.
The “rest stops” are simply a “pull off” with trash cans and outhouses. Out in the middle of nowhere.
This is how people go missing, I’m guessing.
I pulled in to get a picture but I absolutely did not get out of my car. Not a safe place for a solo female traveler, I feel like. Especially one that has been recently disarmed at the border.
I was thinking that if I really needed to, I would just pull over to the side of the road. The idea sounded much safer and there’s no traffic to worry about.
Unfortunately I didn’t see any Dall Sheep along the way, I only saw the caution sign.
I did, however, see a lot of old, creepy, abandoned buildings.
Beaver Creek To Tok
Finally another gas stop. I had made it to Beaver Creek.
The Beaver Creek Mini Mart. Laundromat. Restaurant. Campground. Gift Shop. Here is the “all in one” stop for everything you need (if you don’t need much).
I didn’t need much… just gas, a bathroom and more disgusting coffee. I was starting to get a little hungry and thought about eating at the tiny restaurant, but I had a deadline to meet, so no dinner for me yet.
I’m glad I didn’t need a room, as advertised on the rusty old gas pump.
Apparently I am fascinated with these ancient gas pumps.
The bathrooms were located in the building behind the mini mart, along with showers for the campground. I’m not sure they are much safer than the outhouses, but you do what you have to do.
I met a older couple from Minnesota (not in the bathroom), who were traveling in an RV across the Alcan. We had a nice, but short conversation before I set back out.
Back on the road again. 109 more miles to Tok, Alaska where I was stopping for the night. It was getting late and I really didn’t want to drive much after dark, so there was no time to waste.
I did make time for this.
Remember my aforementioned emergency bathroom plan? It’s now off the table.
Also how people go missing.
I had to pull over and get a video of this impressively big, scary, brown bear. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. Like really shaking. I was safely in my car but I was still terrified. The thought of no longer being at the top of the food chain is a little unnerving.
As I watched him mosey up the road, a truck pulling a camper stopped on the opposite side. They had spied the bear as well.
Once he had walked a far enough distance away, I stepped out of the car to film him as he crossed the street in front of the other vehicle. All the while looking back over my shoulder to make sure that he didn’t have any friends in tow. My hands are still shaking and I didn’t move far from my door, just in case.
What an awesome video.
Only it was not.
It wasn’t until I got to Tok that I realized I, apparently, had not hit the record button, like I thought. I can only imagine it was because my hands were shaking uncontrollably. Talk about being super disappointed in myself.
I did get a couple of short videos as he walked past my car though, so all is not lost.
It’s now getting dark and I have to be in Tok by 10 pm. to check in.
Somewhere around 200 miles past Beaver Creek I crossed the US border back into Alaska. It was a much faster process this time. He looked at my passport for a split second and said “Welcome to Alaska” and that was it. No need to ask about weapons because Canada’s got that covered.
No pictures were taken of the US border crossing…I’m “pictured” out by this time and all I cared about was dinner and a bed.
Tok To Glennallen
I finally arrived in Tok and I am officially now starving.
There are a few motels in Tok to choose from but I had booked a room at “Young’s Motel”, directly behind the famous “Fast Eddy’s” restaurant. It’s well known in these parts anyway.
To check in to your room, you have to go to the check-out counter in the restaurant, which closes at 10 pm. This is the reason that I was on such a time crunch. Missing out on a bed for the night was not an acceptable option.
I arrived a little after 9 pm, checked in, ordered a sandwich and the “all you can eat” salad bar, which was amazing by the way. I was so hungry by this time that everything tasted amazing. I’m pretty sure that even the napkins would have been delicious, at this point.
After the best meal ever, I found my room and immediately crashed. Not only was the food the best ever but the bed felt like heaven. After the past 18 hours, on only 3 hours of sleep, I desperately needed this and I slept like a baby.
The next morning I awoke refreshed and ready to start the rest of my journey. Only six more hours to Anchorage!
Or maybe not
After a thirty minute wait on the “Pilot Car” to come back from the other direction, I was on the way again. Slowly.
This was the first time I’ve ever had to follow a “Pilot Car” though a construction zone, but I found out really quickly why it was a good idea.
It was a rough ride for sure, dodging craters and driving over mountains of dirt. Luckily it was only around two miles worth.
138 miles later I arrived in Glennallen.
Glennallen To Palmer
Finally a modern convenience store and gas dispensing device.
Things were going great.
For a minute.
After leaving the store I took a left at the crossroad. Still no GPS. I’m navigating with my exceptional directional skills.
Yea…I was not supposed to be on the “4”.
But. I. Was.
I drove somewhere around 30 miles with no Anchorage signs in sight. I did, however, see a couple of Valdez signs. Something didn’t feel right and I just knew that I was going the wrong way (exceptional directional skills fail). I was only 80 miles from Valdez and I thought about just going on. Valdez is on my Alaska bucket list.
I’m a little tired of driving by now so I turned around and headed back. An extra 160 miles, at this point, did not sound at all exciting.
Maybe next time.
Besides the loan bear, these two moose are the only wildlife that I was lucky enough to see on the whole trip.
I did, however, see some interesting other things, like boats in the middle of nowhere, old service stations and a lot of abandoned buildings.
And then there was this.
One of the most beautiful views ever.
What an amazing trip it was and I was so happy that I did it.
I was also so happy that it was over by the time I arrived.
Final gas stop in Palmer, Alaska, only 30 miles from Anchorage. Yes! Finally!
I am still amused by the dog/car wash in Palmer. It’ was definitely my first time seeing that, but Alaska is full of “first time seeing that” things. There is nowhere else like it and no other drive like the one I took to get here. It was worth every minute.