For me, a roadtrip starts over 300 miles, otherwise its a weekend getaway. I’m a self-proclaimed driver and my standard may be off from the general public as a guy who once put 50K on a Dodge Charger in a year (not to mention a new set of tires, a windshield, a heat exchanger, brakes, rotors, and wipers). I know what windshield time is, and what a road kill resume looks like, as I lost my pervious set of wheels to a deer in upstate New York. All that aside, driving the Dalton Highway (or the Haul Road if you’re a real sourdough) truly reset my standard as to what a roadtrip can be. If you get excited by the idea of “the journey” as much as the destination, than this is one ribbon of road you can’t pass up!
North to Alaska (A Dream Hunt):
Let me set the stage from Anchorage…852 miles of road (each way), 20 hours of road time, 5 guys, 100lbs of gear (each), 1 Ford F250, 1 boat trailer, and a metric boatload of Snickers bars. That’s a roadtrip.
First let me start by saying that road is a strong term when referring to the Dalton; remember this is the same road you see sometimes on Ice Road Truckers. Before the snow flies it’s really 414 miles of mud-bathed, pothole-ridden, packed gravel: the true manifestation of suspension hell on earth for any vehicle. Fortunately the Haul Road comes with a heaping side of dramtic scenery and wildlife to help get you through, like mint jelly for your mutton.
Part of the allure to driving the Haul Road is that it is not easy for a non-resident to do. Hertz won’t let you take that Ford Fiesta on it, and for good reason: the decaying remains of more than one family sedan can be found along its length as testament to the tortures this stretch of dirt can throw at a vehicle. You really need a truck, and royalties on a gold mine, as gas is gonna run you about $5.39 a gallon. The pain at the pump is augmented by the fact that you drive next to the same pipeline that the crude probably came down, before you paid to import it back. However private rentals do exist and rumor has it U-Haul doesn’t care where you go as long as you come back…
We looked pretty good by Fairbanks, already 350 miles into the drive, before the real fun started.
Construction was at a feverish pitch, though once we hit the Haul Road, it did not take long before we were forced to take our first of many stops to wait for a pilot car to bring us through a work site. Crews were racing to get needed repairs done by winter and these construction delays accounted for several hours of the total travel time.
We saw a great deal of wildlife from the road including this sizable grizzly bear hanging out by the pipeline. Other critters included musk ox, dall sheep, caribou of course, and ptarmigan. For such a remote and desolate habitat, the tundra is surprisingly full of life and provided far more opportunities for wildlife viewing through our cameras and binoculars than I could have hoped for.
Atigun Pass has been thrown into popular culture through TV shows documenting travel along the ice roads. Make no mistake about the real challenges that exist in traveling on this stretch of ground. The steep grade which must be negotiated on the downhill portion of this section was tense driving with a small boat trailer even on a sunny autumn afternoon; I can’t even imagine trying to maneuver an oversized load of critical equipment and supplies down the back of this pass in a winter setting. Those folks that make their living on the Dalton earn every penny of their paycheck and my full respect.
The closest indication of civilization was about three miles North of base camp along the Sag river, nearly all the way to Prudhoe Bay.
As with any travel adventure we undertake the weather can always be an influencing factor. Here a change in the weather system would not mean a delayed flight, or a missed connection – it might mean a week snowed in waiting for the roads to clear! Trust me I was already in need of a shower and some vegetables and another week in a tent was not high on my priority list! With that in mind, we beat a hasty retreat at the end of the trip, traveling through the night to avoid construction delays and to get in front of a growing and gathering weather system.
If you are a Roadie, a Driver, or any other kind of Motorhead, you need to put the Dalton Highway on your bucket list. It’s nowhere near as sexy as the autobahn nor does it have the mystic of the Pacific Coastal Highway, but it does have its own beauty, wonder and challenge that should not be missed.
Post Courtesy of New Girl in the Air’s husband, Mike (aka New Guy on the Ground)