This is not a food post. It’s a short account of my recent trip down the Alcan Highway. If it’s food you’re looking for, feel free to browse my old recipes.
We left Fairbanks a week ago and I have internet for the first time since we left. Heading down the Alcan was quite the adventure, but before I write about that, I want to talk about leaving Fairbanks.
We were supposed to leave on Friday morning. On Thursday, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to pack the U-Haul, clean our cabin, take loads of stuff to the transfer station, etc. If you’ve ever moved, you know the stress I’m talking about. PURE MADNESS and a way to test the strength of our partnership.
We were planning to take a break between packing and have one beer at Hoodoo Brewery with our friends. Hoodoo opened in 2012 in the “industrial” district of Fairbanks (I say industrial kind of tongue-in-cheek because there’s no zoning in Fairbanks and there’s some sort of industry just around every corner). It’s a beautiful space with industrial wooden spools as tables, tin wall paneling, and a minimalist approach to decorating. With 5 seasonal beers on tap and a jug of water in the corner, you go to Hoodoo solely for the brew and good company. There’s usually a food truck parked outside, alongside the brewery’s branding wagon, an antique Austrian fire truck which serves as a kegorator on wheels. Hoodoo is a “must do” when you visit Fairbanks. Just be warned: their beer packs a pretty good punch. Back to leaving. Once we got to the brewery, we took one sip of beer and that’s all it took to wash the stress away and make the decision to push our moving day back to Saturday. We stayed until the place closed, drank plenty of amazing beer, and enjoyed the company of our friends (and their dogs) a little longer. On Friday, we spent the day packing and running errands. That night, we had one last bonfire in our back yard. A handful of friends came over to join in the burning of credit card bills, old manuscripts, and magazines. About 10:00, the Northern Lights waved goodbye to us for the hours we spent talking and huddling around the fire.
The next morning, we finished tying up loose ends and our friend and neighbor fed our bellies full of huevos rancheros and we headed South. During any life change or big adventure I’ve had, I’ve learned more about myself and more about “life” than the years leading up to it. Maybe I’m just more in tune to myself and the changes around me. On this particular occasion, I learned that time only moves forward, albeit slow at times. Spending extra time with friends and taking time to say farewell will always be far more important than making a deadline. To those friends, thank you for feeding both our souls and our bellies before our departure. We got to Tok, AK and ate milkshakes from the infamous Fast Eddy’s for dinner. As we were sucking our milkshakes down, we saw a sign for a weigh station, so I told Chris to pull in so we could weigh the trailer. Long story short, we learned our trailer was about 800 pounds overweight. It was a weekend and we were 5 hours away from Fairbanks. We debated back and forth as to what we should do and ended up driving as far as we could and planned to regroup the next morning. We had a reservation that night at a dry cabin, located at a dog mushing yard called Mukluk Adventures right outside of Whitehorse. We called to let the owner know we were running late, and he kindly said he’d put a log in the wood stove, so the place would be nice, warm and welcoming for our arrival.
Well, about three hours out of Whitehorse, the dark settled in.
It started to pour down rain.
We were driving on the most remote road in North America.
With an overweight trailer.
In the fog, which lowered visibility to less than 100 meters (shoutout to Canada).
I didn’t think it could be more nerve wracking until we began driving over newly laid calcium which is used to hold down dust and “stabilize” unpaved roads…except when it’s raining, which has the exact opposite effect (think driving over loose, wet gravel). All the while, we’re dipping up and down along frost heaves (think the ups and downs of a roller coaster).
Lesson #2: The most humbling and satisfying experiences are the ones where you feel completely helpless (and maybe even doubt yourself a bit) but decide to move forward instead of stopping or falling far behind. That’s written in the fabric of the human experience, maybe.
In the dark, fog, and pouring down rain, along the frost heaves on the calcium covered and most remote road in North America with an overweight trailer, we puttered along. I was driving 20 mph for the majority of the leg of the trip, and we were getting nowhere.
Around 2:00 in the morning and about an hour out of Whitehorse, we threw in the towel and came across a small town called Haines Junction with a couple motels, a gas station, and a bar. Towns along the Alcan rarely have more than a mom and pop motel and gas pump. The only motel open at 2 in the a.m. was attached to the local watering hole. Luckily, Chris made enough racket and rang enough bells to wake up the owner and we were able to get a room. The room was dingy and smelled of mildew. It certainly wasn’t a nice little cabin in the woods with a wood burning stove on a dog mushing yard but it was a place to lay our heads. Life lesson #3: Trips will never go as planned. Be open to Plan B and Plan C and Plan D. It might not be go as expected but it’s better than breaking your neck to make Plan A happen.
The next morning, we regrouped and made our way to Whitehorse. When we arrived, we stopped at Baked Cafe and Bakery for a little cafe R&R. Their breakfast panini and drip coffee was just what we needed after our stressful venture to Whitehorse. After breakfast, we regrouped. More specifically, we took every last box from our meticulously packed trailer and repacked it, so a lot of the extra weight was centered over the trailer’s axle rather than at the front where it was weighing down the hitch, and we were off again, but this time, we were off and the car sounded so much happier than it did the night before. Insert next life lesson/metaphor here: Although regrouping takes time, it’s absolutely necessary to progressing rather than barely getting by or breaking down altogether.
That night, we made it to a place called Nugget City (near Watson Lake) and rented a cabin right off the highway. Located on the same premise was Wolf it Down Restaurant, and we slipped in the door right before they shut the doors for the night. The operation, at the time, was a one-man-show, and we asked him what he had time to make for us. He said his spaghetti was out of this world, and it was known far and wide across Canada. We sat down, grabbed a Yukon Brewery beer from the cooler and talked to the chef while Breaking Bad played in the background. The spaghetti was served in bowls the size of turkey platters. One “serving” could have fed 4 people. As the cook handed us our meal, he said, “I hope you’re hungry.” Whether he took pity on us weary travelers or he usually served such large portions, I don’t know. Regardless, I’m thankful for the care he took in preparing it because it was delicious and was reminiscent of a home cooked meal, something we both craved more and more along our drive.
The next morning, we headed down through Fort Nelson. The drive was beautiful. Fall colors rolled over the hills and wildlife romped along the roadside. We were going to try to make it to Prince George but yet again, we ran into bad roads, storms, and nightfall. As we were driving on an especially dark and curvy road, deer started popping up by the dozens. Nerves were shot yet again so we stayed in a small idyllic town called Hudson’s Hope. I don’t remember much about this place, other than its quaintness. The drive between Hudson’s Hope and Prince George was beautiful. Hillsides were covered with leaves which had just started to turn. Those trees were far fuller than those further north. The further south we came, we noticed time slowing down a bit, or us catching up with it, in the form of fall foliage. The final day was a marathon. We got up in the morning and drove 20 hours down to Wenatchee. Around 8, we stopped in a town called 150 Mile House where we got burgers from Firehouse Diner. Hands down, these were the best burgers we’ve ever had on the road. I got an elk burger with boozy barbecue sauce, crispy shallots, and swiss. Chris got a blue cheese burger, and we both got healthy piles of fries with gravy on the side (when in Rome…though I never need an excuse to eat gravy). After dinner, we drove. And we drove some more. There was a ton of coffee, several O’Henry candy bars, Tim Horton’s doughnuts (and more coffee), and a wing and a prayer. We got to Washington about 3:00 in the morning, and luckily, we didn’t have to unpack our trailer for customs.
Around 6 a.m., just as the sun was igniting across the sky, we pulled into a familiar driveway and were welcomed by familiar faces, and embraced by familiar arms. I can’t speak for you, but I do know this for myself: Adventures are exciting. New people and places are amazing. But being welcomed by something familiar is the very best gift at the end of any long journey.
This is only the first part of my cross country road trip, only this next half includes my mom, who flew out from North Carolina to drive the rest of the way with me. I’ll write more on that later.
If you plan to travel the Alaska Hwy, feel free to email me and I will be more than happy to share more information (places to stay, things to see, resources, etc) with you. I didn’t want to bore everyone with the minute details. Highlights along the Alcan: Yukon Brewery, Whitehorse Baked Cafe, Whitehorse Wolf it Down Restaurant Liard Hot Springs Downtown Quesnel Mucho Lake Lodge