Outdoors/Adventure

A final push through the snow to pass through the Alaska Highway

Last of three parts.

It was day four of our journey from Alaska to the Lower 48 on the Alaska Highway, although my friend Bailey and I had entered that interminable time that sometimes occurs on road trips or vacations when who can say what day it is or how long it’s been. We knew for sure it had been colder than expected as we car-camped from the back of my truck every night — except two nights in a motel outside of Chicago just before Bailey’s flight back home.

With sparse options to choose from on the Alcan nearing Dawson Creek, Canada, we counted ourselves lucky that we’d scored a place to stay overnight via Hipcamp, an Airbnb-esque app that lists privately owned property available for camping for a set fee.

As I got the truck stuck in the fresh snow trying to find a level spot to sleep, then un-stuck again, then finally permanently backed in a spot our host graciously and patiently plowed out, Bailey cooked us dinner.

We ate said dinner in the giant warm barn our hosts offered us. Although, it was strange — when I flicked on the bright overhead lights inside, one of the guys hesitated.

“Oh — do you need lights?”

“No!” Bailey and I both quickly responded. She added, “We have headlamps, that’s totally fine.” I shut down the light and took in the once-again cavernous dimness, filled with strange odds and ends. There were balloons and signs leftover from what must have been a party, several big pieces of sectional couch and other lounge furniture, a small white picnic table, a foosball and pool table and several arcade machines.

He turned the light back on. “No, no — it’s OK, if you’re going to hang out in here you’ll need lights! It’s just I’ll need to shut some power down at the house. We have a bitcoin server in here and it takes a lot of energy.”

Bailey and I both turned to where he was looking, at the source of what was now obviously a loud mechanical humming from an orange machine in the far corner of the barn.

He continued breezily, “It’s just something we’re trying. It’s what keeps this place so warm! OK, I’m going to go take care of things back at the house. Let me know if you need anything!”

Bailey and I turned to look at each other with wide eyes. Then we refocused: we were hungry. We brought our bowls full of soup with sausage over to the indoor picnic table, illuminated by the bright overhead light and — apparently — warmed by the bitcoin server. That night we drank the red wine Bailey had brought, cheering our very strange but comfortable circumstances and musing aloud about spending the night on a bitcoin farm.

We went to bed with the snow still swirling down all around us, and slept soundly the entire night.

[Part 1: Smooth sailing on the first leg of an open-road adventure on the Alaska Highway]

[Part 2: Holed up with Hipcamp, navigating snow and sleet on the Alaska Highway in British Columbia]

When I woke up, it was to snow accumulated on the exterior of the truck-bed windows. I briefly considered sleeping until spring, but eventually convinced myself to face the music. It was difficult to lift the tailgate hatch up, because there was so much new snow on top, and when I’d hiked my boots up all the way and jumped out of the car, there was no indication that the place we’d parked had ever been plowed. Snow came up more than halfway on the truck tires, and in spots it nearly spilled over the top of my Xtratufs. And, it was still coming down.

This is a good time to remind you that Bailey didn’t bring snow boots because I didn’t think she’d need them. She spent some time in the coming days drying out her socks.

We made coffee — first things first — in the bitcoin-heated barn, and made a rational plan: we’d wait for the guys to get up and plow out the driveway. I wouldn’t consider driving out of my own driveway with this much snow, and had already been stuck enough the previous day, even with four-wheel drive.

We waited. And waited. There was no sign of life from the main house.

Bailey decided to try her hand at using the bathroom at the house. After all, that’s what they’d asked us to do. We hadn’t taken them up on it yet — plenty of places to pee in the yard — but maybe by heading inside and poking around they would stir. We nominated her because I am allergic to dogs, and there were approximately 1 million of them inside that we’d met the night before.

She came back outside five minutes later, tromping through the yard in her inappropriate footwear, shaking her head and giving a thumbs-down even before she was back at the car. Hopping in the passenger seat, she said, “They’re not up. I couldn’t find the bathroom. I think it was upstairs. I looked for it, but didn’t want to open too many of the doors — but one of the rooms I did peek into was full of guns. Just, guns everywhere. Let’s go.”

Thus, our perfectly rational decision to wait for them to get up was overridden by emotion, and we decided to try our hand at leaving. I fired up the car and my nerves, thinking about strategy.

I remembered watching our host adeptly rock the truck back and forth, first in reverse then drive, to unstick it from deep snow. Bailey had already swept out some snow from in front of each of the tires, so I started imitating what I’d seen. Drive, pause, reverse, repeat. After a few rounds of this, I took a breath, and kept driving, smoothly and firmly forward.

We cleared where we’d parked overnight. We cleared the house. We cleared the assortment of vehicles. We cleared the gate, and the main part of the driveway leading to the road. We cleared the foot of the driveway, and made it into the also-unplowed but at least tire-rutted road.

For these uncertain 20 seconds of driving, we were the most quiet we would be the entire trip.

And when we popped out onto the country road, we both immediately and very loudly cheered and whooped. My heart was racing.

From there on out, we found incredible national parks. We found sunshine. We found 60 degrees, places to run, and very long walks. Ultimately, we made it to the Lower 48 in one piece and excellent spirits, with nothing but good memories and stories to tell.

Next time? I’d tell Bailey yes, pack your snow boots. But otherwise I am so grateful for the adventure we had, in all of its entirety, including my life lesson on how to get myself unstuck from deep snow.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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