Iowa to Alaska: What 4,000 miles taught us

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Around 1 p.m. yesterday, the hulking Great Alaskan Holidays RV pulled up in front of our house in Anchorage. Dusty, creaking, and looking like it had indeed crossed the country, the RV we affectionately referred to as the Beast stopped with a sigh next to our overgrown lawn. Iowa to Alaska, check.

The odometer read 4,190 miles, more than either AK Kid or his buddy had ever driven in their lives during one trip, and probably more than most grownups, too. We’d seen plains states, forested states, provinces with towering mountain peaks that reminded AK Dad and I of Europe. We’d learned how to navigate narrow roads and parking lots, watched bison travel up the highway, and seen more than our share of bears (at least 20). But most important, we all gained an appreciation for where the endpoint lay.

AK Kid and Best Buddy hang out at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

AK Kid and Best Buddy hang out at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO


Cruising or taking a ferry to Alaska from the Pacific Northwest is a multi-day adventure, yes, but it’s also a rather effortless one if you’re not the one steering the ship. Flying to Alaska is the fastest, and rarely requires anything more than a few hours of discomfort in a too-small airline seating arrangement. But driving; driving laid our wheels on the rutted, frost-heaved roadways and our feet upon so many different soil types I’m not sure I could describe them all.

We went through six maps to drive back home. Our copy of the Milepost, considered by anyone driving to or from Alaska as the resource of necessity, is as dog eared as a well-loved novel and marked with stars, checks, and underscores of favorite (and in a few cases, not-so-favorite) stops.

Though our Alaska-Canada (AlCan) Highway adventure didn’t really begin until we hit Mile 0 at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, there were 2,000 miles of prior blacktop experiences that brought us back to those early days of potential homesteaders making their way up the new highway, kids often in tow, tent packed, for a new life in the Last Frontier.

Can you picture it?

"The Beast" parked along the road for a rest stop. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

“The Beast” parked along the road for a rest stop. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

We did. I’ve heard a number of stories from Alaska pioneers who, kids and supplies packed in the family wagon or sedan, drive the dirt and rutted highway alone (and did I mention many of these people were mothers with little long-distance driving experience?) to join family in this new and wild place. We had it easy; we were warm and dry each night. We had food and an easy way to prepare it. We had service stations, restaurants, and tow trucks available if anything happened. We had cell phones.

Over and over I said to the boys as we bounced across potholes or waited in line for a pilot car to shepherd us from one end of a road construction project to the other, “What would you think if it was just you guys and me in a small car driving this dirt road?” Their faces screwed up in abject horror, whether from the idea of a mom driving 4,000 miles without another adult to help in the case of crisis, or the dust that was now blowing in their faces because they left a window open. In any case, the uncomfortable moments, the days of 14 hour slogs across country that was indeed beautiful, but in places so remote and similar in appearance it left nothing to the imagination; we couldn’t play “I Spy” even for the sameness of terrain.

Stunning views and a seemingly endless highway. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Stunning views and a seemingly endless highway. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Traveling to our home from the Lower 48 states has never been more relevant. It took a few weeks, a lot of preparation, more than a few dollars (more on that, later), and a ton of patience. Mileage on a map doesn’t mean hours on the road, and in fact, in some cases hours double due to unforseen circumstances that slow one down. Frost heaves, road work, wildlife, a slow RV ahead of you towing a trailer; it all matters in the final count of days, hours, and minutes spent traveling to the 49th state.

Would I do this again? Today, if someone offered me the chance. There is so much world to see.

We ate a lot of s'mores on this trip. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

We ate a lot of s’mores on this trip. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO


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  3. You’ve inspired us to do the same trip one day to experience the ALCAN ! Who knows how many more will be effected by your blog or now that we are telling everyone, as well. Great idea!!
    Rob B

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