The old proverb goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That is very true, but there are still a thousand miles to travel. Unless, of course, the trip is longer, which was our case. Actually, in all, our trip was about 7500 miles. Thankfully, only about the first thousand miles of that journey involved continuously brutal travel conditions.
We were moving out of Alaska, and everything we owned was packed into the back of our 1975 Dodge pickup and our boat, which was pulled behind it. I called that truck The Warthog, because it was so rusty, so ugly, and so tough. It was the only appropriate name. For our trip, The Warthog was grossly overloaded.
That first step was March, 3, 1993, at four in the morning. The sky was clear and it was a brisk twenty degrees below zero as we rolled out. It was an emotional event as we intentionally said goodbye to our chosen homeland and began our journey back to the States.
We had not gone far when the trouble began. Actually, we were probably still in the driveway when I noticed it. Frost heaves! Frost heaves were, and continue to be, part of northern living. The roadbed freezes and buckles upwards creating a speed bump effect. It's annoying for sure, but after so many years of driving on roads like that, I had become complacent. What made those frost heaves special was the fact that The Warthog was so loaded down, and there was so much weight on the trailer tongue, that driving over 35 mph was impossible.
We heaved, bounced, bucked, and jostled our way down the highway. It was like crossing a railroad switch yard for over a thousand miles. And that is how we spent the first thirty-odd driving hours of that trip. It did rock the kids to sleep nicely, I'll say that much for it. I had a less relaxing experience.
Our first stop was Beaver Creek, Yukon Territories. We pulled in at about two in the morning. After a few short hours of sleep, we got on the road again. That's where the lodge owner's oversized dog bit me on the shoulder as I was checking the tires in the morning. There were a few tense moments of standoff between me with an ax that magically came into my hands and the dog that evidently had never been threatened with extinction before then. The anti-social dog got a stay of execution due to an owner who hastily locked it up while I was deciding if it was worth the trouble in a foreign country. I had avoided injury due to a thick Carhartt coat. The owner never apologized or even made eye contact with me as we checked out. I was less than impressed.
The next night's stop was Watson Lake, Yukon Territories. I don't remember how late it was when we arrived there. I do recall that the motel was attached to some kind of night club, and seemed to be of questionable character. It was ridiculously noisy. It didn't matter, there were no other options for hundreds of miles, and I was too exhausted to drive any further.
Watson Lake was actually about 1100 miles into our journey, and the road conditions improved after that. Our travel speed average went up to 45 mph. Doesn't sound like much, but it improved morale.
By the third day, we were hopelessly behind schedule with no possibility of making the next planned destination. Fortunately, as we entered British Columbia, there were more frequent towns with amenities. We rescheduled our next stop to be realistic and pressed on. That day we stopped at Liard Hot Springs and took a fifteen minute dip.
All the emotions of leaving my life-long dream of living in Alaska, all the tension of the difficult driving through the icy mountains, all the stress of the horrible roads, all the pain in my lower back, washed away in that 105 degree spring. So did all my ambition and all my ability to stay awake. I felt like a rag doll after that stop. Somehow I managed to drive to our next destination. It has been twenty-two years now, and I still think about that hot spring.
There were yet thousands of miles to travel on that trip. It took a long time. But, in the end, we had a great, wonderful, horrible, delightful, frustrating journey in the books. We had encountered deadly cold, blizzards, treacherous travel conditions, wonders of nature, hostile animals, near brushes with death, mean people, wonderful people, breath-taking scenery, pleasure, pain, unexpected adversity, and unbidden assistance.
In all, it turned out to be a great adventure, and we had not even been looking for one.