Outdoors/Adventure

Smooth sailing on the first leg of an open-road adventure on the Alaska Highway

My friend Bailey always says she’s from Nevada. That’s true. What’s more true is that she grew up in Las Vegas. But, similar to Alaskans and the igloos we all supposedly inhabit, a typical reaction to Bailey’s hometown is the question: “What casino did you live in?” So, she sticks with Nevada. Fewer strange questions. And it’s true that she now lives in Reno.

Las Vegas, or at least its climate, runs deep in Bailey. I had this in mind when she texted me a month or so ago to ask whether she would need snow boots on our upcoming Alaska Highway spring road trip. She quickly followed up: “I have boots, they’re just not made specifically for snow.” I said I saw no reason she’d need to pack an additional pair.

I know. I can hear the collective groan from here. I was foolishly making decisions from the relative dry and melt of my neighborhood in Palmer. For what it’s worth, I didn’t pack snow boots either, but I had Xtratufs.

Bailey flew up to Alaska with a neatly and impressively packed bag, sans snow boots, and we departed my home on April 25. We had 12 days before Bailey’s flight out of Chicago, and a general idea of how to get there. We would take the Alcan from the Alaska-Canada border down through its start in Dawson Creek. From there, we planned to take the route through Jasper and Banff National Parks and reenter the U.S. through North Dakota. We agreed on some key stops along the way — Liard Hot Springs, one or both of the national parks — but not to get too locked into any one thing in advance. If we were feeling it, we’d stay longer. If we weren’t, we’d move on.

The purpose of the drive? Bailey was accompanying me on the first leg of a longer journey to pick up a custom Mobile Art Studio Airstream trailer from Ohio. After I waved her goodbye, I’d continue on and remain in the Lower 48 for a few months, working remotely from my new trailer, painting, and getting in a hike or 10.

This first part was a big journey in its own right, and I was grateful to have a good friend who was game and able to take the time to go with me. From Bailey’s perspective, she was excited to adventure along the fabled Alcan Highway, especially since she was about to enter a new phase of her own life with a new job starting fresh off her trip.

We drove off early Monday afternoon after packing up the truck.

Before launching into the adventure itself, I have to say: we were pretty impressed with our setup. We ogled it for some time before leaving. The wooden platform in the truck bed that made our neatly organized and stashed rig possible was constructed by my patient and much more humble husband, who amiably stood by and nodded at all of our compliments to ourselves.

We were pleased we had enough room to leave our sleeping bags ready and rolled out on the platform, reducing the need to set up/pack from camping. We didn’t bring a tent. We’d lined the wooden platform with a combined double-wide sleeping mat topped with foam and a cover sheet. We lay on that for some time prior to the trip, again, very happy with ourselves.

We had a nice mobile kitchen, dispersed in various bins, a crate for our shoes at the foot of the bed, and a laminated picture of Vin Diesel reminding us to “vin DIESEL NOT GAS” at the pump — I am brand-spanking new at owning a diesel truck, and I didn’t want to make a fatal error. Hand sanitizer lived here; our bear sprays there. There was a bin for books, journals and chocolate. Playlists? Downloaded, along with a bevy of podcasts.

Probably most importantly, our rig was given a squeaky clean bill of health by our mechanics. I felt safe driving it knowing it had been rigorously inspected and fixed up.

[Banff, Jasper and the incredible sights you’ll see driving up the Alaska Highway]

A car camping hack for women is having a stash of toilet paper and a zip-lock plastic bag somewhere dedicated to TP spent on roadside pee breaks. I know ladies who have pee rags that dry in the breeze while clipped to their backpacks, and all the more power to them. This is my princess version, and it works pretty well. We each had a zip-lock discreetly stashed in one rear door pocket each — mine was on the driver’s side. This came in handy countless times, as both of us stayed well-hydrated on water, LaCroix and gas station coffee.

Finally, we had our modest liquor cabinet. This was a cloth bag with separate compartments inserted to a cardboard box. I stuffed a cocktail shaker, bar spoon and shot glass and congratulated myself on being dirtbag fancy.

That first night, we made it to just outside of Tok. As we got closer, we started our daily tradition of discussing at length and looking forward to what we would consume for the evening. What was for dinner? What about our drink?

We made camp at a pullout marked on the Overlander app, a great resource for paid campsites as well as boondocking, i.e., dispersed camping at unofficial locations or on public lands. The sun was still bright and high, and beamed in off the side of the black truck to create a warm and cozy feeling dinner spot. It was in the mid-50s as we set up.

Bailey cooked and I bartended. That evening was chicken noodle soup topped with parmesan, and bagged sweet kale salad with chicken. We sipped a Manhattan each from our coffee mugs and toasted to feeling grateful in the sunshine.

We noted the snow off to the side of the road and figured, entirely incorrectly, that it was a fluke of the first night.

Next week: Continuing on the Alcan and getting stuck in snow.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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