AdVANture: California to Alaska
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July 2016: “I hopped off the plane at LAX…” and picked up my new van/home. In two days I was on my way to Alaska (a measly 3,800 mile road trip) alone. I was certainly a little overwhelmed, but I had no choice to rethink because I had signed a contract for a new job in Soldotna, AK and had to be there in 2 weeks. I had done some pretty long road trips solo prior to this, but this would be about 3 of those all at once. Oh, and through another country. No big deal.
Step 1: Planning
I was at my parents house in NJ when I accepted the job in Alaska. I sat with my laptop on the living room floor and typed into google maps: “Starting point: Los Angeles, CA; Destination: Soldotna, AK.” There were two main routes: one that went up through California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and a second route through Utah, Idaho, Montana and Alberta. I knew that I would probably end up taking travel jobs in Oregon and Washington (eventually) but might not in Montana and Idaho so I decided to take that route. I didn’t know much about Canada I just knew that it was beautiful and I wanted to seeBanff National Park. So, I attempted to plan out my trip with trying not to drive more than 8-10 hours in one day. I still have the note in my phone:
Day 1: St Geore, UT
Day 2: Salt Lake, UT
Day 3: Idaho Falls, ID
Day 4: Great Falls, MT
Day 5 and 6: Calgary
That was as far as I got, I decided to reevaluate in Calgary, AB.
Step 2: Drive forever
St George, Utah is a special place for me and Vanny because it’s the first place I spent the night in my fully converted van. It was scary and awesome at the same time. I found dispersed camping on freecampsites.net and stayed the night there. As I went to go to sleep I realized the curtains I tried to throw together 1 day before I left were not working out and constantly were falling down. Luckily there was no one else around and I was so tired I just fell asleep instantly. I remember it was very warm and thank goodness for the fantastic vent because it ran all night and kept the temperature comfortable.
I ended up driving through Utah and spending my second night in Pocatello, Idaho in a camp site. I used a lot of duct tape to tape my curtains up and it worked for the night. My goal for the next night was to figure out a better curtain situation. I hiked around the trails on an Idaho mountainside for 2 hours and developed an appreciation for how beautiful Idaho is.
My next night I spent in Great Falls, MT. One thing I remember about Montana was driving through the Rocky Mountains and seeing several signs stating “ 85 deaths on MT highways this year.” I thought it was odd that this was the only message deemed important enough to convey. I was expecting a “Slow
Down” or “Watch for Wildlife” sign, but there weren’t any. I also remember stopping for dinner in Helena, MT. I still had a few more hours to drive to meet my goal of Great Falls, MT for the night. It was about 4:00 PM and I asked the waitress if I would hit rush hour if I were to leave now. She responded, “Honey, there is no rush hour here.” Needless to say, I heart Montana.
Now it was day 4, I was getting ready to hit a big milestone in my trip: Canada! Weee. I drove to Calgary and spent two days there. I had never been to Canada before but my observation is that Canada is not very different from the US. Well, except that the people seem to be nicer and more mild. Oh, and Tim Hortons is pretty awesome!
I knew that I needed to explore Banff National Park on this road trip so this was my plan for the two days. While in Calgary, I got an airbnb to do laundry and reorganize a bit, but I did not realize that Banff was actually a good two hours
away from Calgary. So,I decided to only explore for one day there. I didn’t have a specific plan, I just drove into the park. I drove into the town centre of Banff and got some coffee. The barista saw me looking at an advertisement for a gondola ride. She said “Don’t pay for that. You can hike that mountain in one hour and not spend $60.” I took her advice but that hike was not easy and there seemed to be no one else on the trail. I thought every noise I heard was a bear and started freaking myself out, so I ran back down the mountain like an imaginary bear was chasing me. When I got back to Calgary I realized I had gone up the wrong trail….oops!
I did know about Lake Louise and had to check it out. I parked in the over flow parking lot and took the
shuttle up which I would recommend because parking at the lake was a mess. There were SOOO many people at this lake, it was overwhelming. I saw a trail by the base of the lake and just started hiking. In about 45 minutes, I had a beautiful bird’s eye view of Lake Louise . I then hiked back down and wandered around the lake. It really is as blue as it looks in pictures. I had lunch at the hotel outside on the deck and it was a lovely experience.
By the time I finished at Lake Louise it was about 6:00 p.m. I took the shuttle back to my car and then headed up to Lake Moraine. There weren’t nearly as many people here and the lake was just as beautiful. I spent an hour walking around the lake and touching the cold glacier water. I headed back to Calgary for the night and was obsessed with Banff and Canada. If I were to do it again and planned better I would have camped somewhere in Banff.
The Alaskan Canadian Highway
When I found out I was driving to Alaska, I googled the route and did not know about the Alaskan Canadian HIghway (alcan) until I got to Dawson Creek, BC . Turns out this is a very long stretch of road with not much in between. I didn’t have cell phone service for two days at one point and the “towns” on the map were sometimes just one or two buildings and MAYBE a gas station. I stopped at the visitor’s center in Dawson Creek and got a pamphlet that had all the cities listed on the ALCAN and what amenities they had (hotel/gas etc), which I would highly recommend to make sure you don’t run out of gas.
The good thing about the ALCAN is that due to its seclusion, it was very easy to just find a large pull off and boondock for the night. Only a few spots had signs that stated “No camping.”. Along the way there were some great sites: more of the Canadian Rockies, Liard hot springs, and bison (who did not care if they were in the middle of the road).
After 8 days of driving I finally made it to Alaska and it was incredible. I was incredibly excited for the next few months of living and working in this state. There were big glaciers and mountains towering over the highway and wild flowers everywhere; it was love at first sight. I still can’t believe I drove to Alaska. If I could do the trip again I would have given myself more time to enjoy the trip as well as more time to get settled into my van. I plan to complete the trip in reverese (AK to lower 48) this summer but to take my time 🙂
What has been your most epic road trip, and what other questions do you have about driving to Alaska?