Road Tripping - The Alaska Edition

Monster Library Student, you asked me to write about my plans to go to Alaska with TSOldtimer, so here it is. We're going to Alaska! Woo!

Is that sufficient?

No? Hmm.

In my mind, the fewer "plans" I have to write about, the better. The last time I planned out a detailed road trip was when I drove for ten days between Massachusetts and Colorado with my friend Jessica. I spent weeks in advance mapping our route, a wide horseshoe swing through the South, making reservations at the critical stops and checking every place beforehand to make sure things would be open for service at precisely the moment we wheeled up. I had each day figured out to the minute, roughly.

Things went well for day one and day two, but on day three the first little snowballs of the impending avalanche starting rolling down the hill, and by day six I found myself freaking out behind the steering wheel as darkness descended on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, looking for a campground that didn't exist, completely off schedule and approaching critical meltdown point.

Moral: Road trip + schedule works only for the very lucky, anal, or oblivious.

Since then I have taken two additional "meandering" type road trips, both with no particular agenda, and both have been fantastic. The first was a wide loop from Colorado to Oregon back to Colorado again, the one where I discovered en route that tizzy and GFGroupie were up in Seattle and thought, "Hey, it's only three hours out of my way, weeee!" and randomly drove there. The second was again going from Colorado to Oregon, but this time I took a dip through the Southwest with only two specific sites to see, leaving the rest of the trip to soak up the scenery and become One With the Road.

I come from a family of planners. My childhood family road trips were often supplemented by a map, supplied by my mom, which showed our route and highlights for each day. So I am predisposed - nay, infused- with the desire to chart and plot and plan. But I've since learned the value of being swept along on whim (or, equally good, on a plan that you didn't make yourself, as there is no sense of responsibility or obligation.) A rough skeleton idea is the best, as long as you have a bit of moxy.

I am convinced that you can just take a car and start driving anywhere in the lower 48, and with a lick of common sense you'll be fine. The furthest you can go without gas are the 100 mile stretches in Wyoming and Nevada, and even the Mojave Desert is a breeze with working AC. There's hardly a spot where you won't find a hotel or food or at least a cell phone signal, wilderness roads and winter extremes excluded.

But the drive north to Alaska is a little bit different. At least, it seems different to me, the novice, the rookie; it seems strange and adventures, slightly dangerous, like taking a ship that has sailed close to the shoreline and turning it out into the open sea. Every story I hear conflicts with another:

"Take extra gas!"
"Only amateurs take extra gas."

"This road is scenic and less-travelled, well worth it."
"People die and get robbed and murdered on this road."

"The road is well-maintained, just like normal roads in the Lower 48."
"Bring along extra tires, headlights, belts, and engines for when your car gets shaken apart into a million pieces."

There are a surprising number of people in my town who have made this trip before, which is nice to know. In the past two weeks, I have watched two families leave to do what TSO and I are about to do. Unfortunately, having real live people to glean advice from has only thrown more pieces into the murky stew of my expectations. I am under the impression that if once upon a time a traveller saw a broken down car on the side of the road, they will forever say, "That was a dangerous road!" and if they once passed through a herd of mountain sheep they will say, "This place was filled with wildlife!" as though the sheep are chained there on a regular basis and I should expect to see the same. The trip makes the tale.

The idea of driving north to Alaska was born out of a lunch I had last spring with a couple in my town. Both had lived up there, the wife in Anchorage and the husband...darn near everywhere else. She had family in Seattle, and so frequently made the trip back and forth, a hard three day drive that became as much of a boring commute as anything. (Three days on that road, mind, would be like going from Maine to Seattle in the same amount of time. No small feat.) The more she talked about the drive, the more I determined that I should one day go and do it.

Actually, it became, "I'll do it this summer!" But life happened, and I got distracted, and then there was the nagging problem of not having anyone to go with. Diving alone in the Lower 48, as I've said, is one thing, but there is something about crossing over the Canadian border that crosses the threshold of my comfort zone. (Scary Canadians.) "I'll do it someday!" I said, and maybe in the back of my mind I pictured myself with silver hair behind the wheel of a gigantic RV, following the Alaskan Tourist Bureau's motto "Come see Alaska before you die!"

But TSOldtimer came back from Spain and said, "Let's adventure!" and I immediately thought "Alaska!" And so fancy slipped into suggestion which has slowly been coagulating into actual factual plans, and I guess now us two rovers are going to end up in the Great White North, although I can still hardly believe it. I will be standing up there on the deck of a ship watching glaciers calf into the ocean while whales leap all around and say, "Are we really going to Alaska? Really?" Maybe it will sink in once I've seen a totem pole or two.

We were originally thinking about going, well, now - but thank goodness it didn't work out that way. My town, which never gets snow, got an inch of snow Sunday morning, and all of the Northwest has been hammered by an unusual cold front that has the orchard growers hauling out their frost fans. It's the weirdest weather ever, and it goes all the way up our route to Alaska, which is, at its warmest, still plunging into the 20's at night. (Spring? Hello? You out there?) So hopefully when we leave in a few weeks the weather will start behaving itself, and maybe - being optimistic here - this cold spell will have frozen out the first crop of these humongous Alaskan mosquitoes I hear so much about.

Mmmmm...Yay! Alaska! Anyone else want to come along for the ride?

Point of interest - I have been sipping a "Devil-may-care" cup of coffee the entire time I've been writing, which explains why I've been rambling on for pages and pages. But all you folks wanted me to blog, so... ha-ha! Take that, no editing!


Erin said...

Are you going to go any farther North into Alaska, like the Fairbanks region?

Man, now I am going to have nightmares about the mosquitos. I haven't had to deal with them in more than TWENTY YEARS but I'm still traumatized. Every summer I looked like I had some horrible flesh eating virus...and the the same time!

Kt said...

Eek! I totally keep forgetting that you lived there! I need to call you!

I would love to do the loop to Denali and Fairbanks, but I think money and energy will dictate where we end up.

Monster Librarian said...

If I could take the time off I would be there!! Next time though!