On Friday the 28th of March we woke up in the Walmart car park of Dawson Creek and set out to explore the town and learn more about the historical Alaska Highway. First up we found the Northern Alberta Railway Park home to the Mile 0 Cairn, the Visitors Centre and the Dawson Creek Station Museum. Unfortunately for us the Visitors Centre and the Museum were closed as we were a few weeks away from the official start of the tourist season but we still got our photo of the famous Alaska Highway sign despite the sun direction making it tricky. Afterwards we had a quick look around the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, we didn’t think much of the art work but as we were leaving we discovered their collection of photos from the construction of the Alaska Highway hidden in the stairwell. It was amazing to see all the old equipment they used and the treacherous conditions they worked through. Eager to learn more we turned to The Mile Post (a detailed guide book we had brought about all of Alaska and northern Canada's highways) and it recommended a stop at the Alaska Highway House in the centre of town. We drove over and found it was closed for lunch. We were torn between wanting to wait for it to reopen and leaving to start the highway. We contemplated what to do over some left over pizza and before long the doors were reopened. We were really glad we stayed in the end as the displays were second to none, the film very informative and the staff incredibly friendly. Here’s a little of what we learnt about the construction of the Alaska Highway:
The Alaska Highway or the Alaska-Canada Highway (or ALCAN) was ploughed through in only eight months during 1942 for the purpose of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska through Canada. This was to enable the delivery of supplies via road during World War II. The highway was originally 2,700km (1,700mi) long but as of 2014 it has been reduced to 2,230km (1,387mi) due to constant reconstruction that has rerouted and straightened a number of sections. Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway starts at the crossroads of several other highways in Dawson Creek, BC, Canada and runs north west through the vast Yukon before crossing into Alaska and ending at Delta Junction where the highway connects with other established roads in the United States northernmost state.
On day two of our Alaska Highway traverse we put in a few more miles before stopping in at the famous Trappers Den Wild Life Emporium on the outskirts of Fort Nelson at mile 278.4 (448km). Hailed as a "unique Northern Gift and Souvenir Shop owned and operated by a local trapping family” we had to have a look. Inside we found all sorts of things from intricately carved antlers and $800 wolf furs to humongous snow shows and hunting attire. Will brought his Dad a book about big game hunting in the Yukon and we took a few photos before moving on.
In the morning we brushed our hair and tried to make ourselves look less like homeless people who lived in their car. We weren't expecting any problems at the border so it came as a surprise when the border officer said we could only enter the USA for two weeks as the six month visas we had spent so much time and money getting apparently included our time in Canada. We had spent 3.5 months in the US and 2 in Canada so according to their rules that was 5.5 months of our 6 months gone. We had interpreted the visa wrong and were under the impression we would receive another 6 months when we entered Alaska. I was devastated but Will wasn't having a bar of it. He parked the Dodge and went inside to see what was what. The border guy laid it all out to us while his female colleague stood at her office door-way and agreed with him saying there was no way we could get an extension. Will pleaded our case, being mainly that we had to go back to the US so we could export Scout home with us and he had to be 9 months old before we could do that. It was difficult to convince her because we hadn't yet booked our flights home but eventually she came around and after making some phone calls we were granted an extension giving us until the 23rd of May to be out. Phew!! The other option we had thought of was to take the Alaska marine (ferry) highway back to the US as then we wouldn't have to leave the US again. This would work but we would then be marked as overstayers and have difficulty if we ever returned to the US.
Border dramas over we took some photos and a short film of us with the ‘Welcome to Alaska’ sign before moving on. Later in the town of Tok at mile post 1279 (2058km) we stopped in at the public library for some wifi. Most importantly we needed to contact Michelle DeCorso an ex overlander who had been posting on the overlanding Facebook pages with offers of a free place to stay in Fairbanks. I had already been in contact with her during the previous months and by the sounds of it we had struck it perfect as their cabin that they usually rent out to holiday makers was unoccupied so they offered to to us for free! We were pretty excited to be staying in a real Alaskan log cabin!
PS: We have been back in New Zealand now for over 4 months and both are back working full time. It's certainly a change from life on the road but we feel fortunate to have found jobs again so easily. As I write this blog and relive the trip of a lifetime it’s 4:33am and I've got 3 more hours of my night shift at work at the hospital to go…