We made it. We reached the end of the Alaska Highway, and beyond. My first thoughts were “I’m never doing that again”. My next thoughts, “*&^% I’ve got to drive back that way”. The Alaska Hwy, particularly in Canada from Haines Junction, YT, to Beaver Creek, YT, is truly awful. It’s not the sort of road anyone could possibly enjoy driving in their own RV. In his heyday, Hannu Mikkola may have enjoyed it in his Audi Quattro. On Monday, we only saw about a dozen other vehicles on the stretch of the Alaska Hwy we were driving. Unfortunately, one of those vehicles – an 18-wheeler – threw up a rock big enough to put a chip the size of a quarter (or 10 pence) in the windscreen and scare the hell out of me to boot. It took 3 days to drive from Haines to Fairbanks and for long stretches on the Alaska Hwy I had to drive at 10-15 mph because the road surface was so bad. Rhys estimates that the RV magnifies every bump by a thousand times – I tend to agree with him. Nina has already investigated the possibility of catching a ferry from Alaska to Seattle to avoid driving the Alaska Hwy through Canada on the way back. Unfortunately, all the ferries through to September are fully booked (by people who know better than to drive the Alaska Hwy).
Enough whining. The highlights of the drive included our first sightings of a grizzly and a couple of moose. Also, some of the scenery that can be viewed from the highway as it skirts the St. Elias Range is truly spectacular.
The official end to the Alaska Hwy is in Delta Junction, but Hwy 2 carries on westward to Fairbanks and then on to Livengood and Manley Hot Springs (another 251 miles). Fairbanks has a surprisingly “big city feel” to it after several weeks visiting only small towns and cities since leaving the lower 48. I’ve become accustomed to driving about 400 miles from one set of traffic lights to the next over the last few weeks, so having to sit at traffic lights every couple of blocks in Fairbanks is particularly irritating. On the surface, reading the guidebooks and visiting the tourist information office, Fairbanks appeared to be a cultural hotspot, with several highly rated museums, a university and many tourist activities. However, now we’re here, and have already visited some of the “Tripadvisor 30 Top Things to do in Fairbanks” attractions, I must say it’s been a bit of a disappointment. I’ll leave it at that.
So, instead, we made our own fun … and as a result, we had one of the best days of our entire trip so far. We pumped up our inflatable raft and took to the Chena River. The boys and I launched the vessel from the riverbank within the RV park (which happens to be named Riverview). We floated for several hours down the river all the way to Fairbanks travelling through, of all places, Ladd Army Airfield (there’s a huge military presence around Fairbanks). On the way we saw a pair of nesting osprey and a pair of moose. In Fairbanks, we met with Nina and Anwen and Rhys swapped with Anwen to let her cruise down the river for a few miles (it’s only a 3 man boat).
By the way, we’re not actually staying in Fairbanks, we’re actually in North Pole, AK. No, really … the place is called North Pole. It’s even harder to swallow when you consider the temperatures have been around 75F/24C for the past few days.
At the moment we’re trying to plan our next steps. Alaska Interior (or Interior Alaska?), as the region is known, is proving to be a challenging place to explore with young children and keep them entertained/interested for one reason or another, so we’re having to rethink our original plans. Keeps life interesting!