Wednesday, June 24, 2015

North to Alaska!

Early morning hike in Haines Junction, YT

Long ago—back around 1960—I was a child in school when we studied the building of the Alaska-Canada Highway—“Alcan” for short. The idea of driving all the way to Alaska caught my childish imagination, but the road was gravel. You had to carry gas cans and know how to fix your own car if it broke down because there were no services. I am not the least bit mechanically minded, so as an adult I regretfully set aside that dream as unrealistic for me.

Gates can close the road to travel in foul weather.
Fast-forward fifty years. The road is asphalted. There are gas stations every hundred miles or so and finding a mechanic in a time of need is theoretically not impossible. It turns out that driving to Alaska was also a long-time dream of my soon-to-be-ninety-year-old mother-in-law. My husband (no more mechanical than I am) is now officially retired. We could do it, we told ourselves. Why not?

We began talking seriously about it eight months ago. The Alaska Tourism Board was more than happy to send us information. My husband plotted our route and contacted hotels in February. May 20 we left home with a cooler, a camera, and a box of supplies. Twenty-five days and 9,280 miles later, we arrived home, awed and eager to do it again.

In 1942 a recuperating soldier added his hometown
of Danville, IL, to the sign post on Watson Lake in
Yukon Territory. Since then others have followed suit
until it has grown into this "signpost forest".
The Alaska Highway had been talked about since the gold miners headed north in the 1890s. Serious route possibilities were discussed in the 1930s. But it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that pushed the US and Canadian governments to come to an agreement to make the road a reality. Work began in the spring of 1942. In June the Japanese attacked an American base in the Aleutian Islands and demonstrated the importance of an overland supply route for military bases there. More than 16,000 soldiers and civilian engineers bulldozed trees, leveled the ground, and built bridges, ditches and culverts over 1,422 miles of wilderness. At first commanders believed that Americans of African descent would not be able to handle the harsh conditions of the far north (more than 90 degrees in summer and fifty or more below zero in winter). When they finally did send African Americans, they excelled. This miracle of engineering, sometimes compared to the Panama Canal for its scope and coordination, was completed in November of 1942, only eight months after it was begun!

Wildlife like bear and this moose can be seen along the road.
Now, I am a novelist. As we journeyed, I kept imagining the men who built the road, the sweethearts they left behind, the friends and brothers fighting in the Pacific. Most of these men had never been out of the lower 48 before. Most of the locals were used to traveling by dog-sled. What a range of characters! What a range of emotions in those close quarters and harsh conditions! What a setting for Christian fiction! (Note: This is a major hint to my Canadian friends and fellow-bloggers; I really want to read a book about this.)

Our 2015 journey found a two-lane asphalted road, much of it with no shoulder. Some days we met another vehicle about once every ten minutes. "Facilities" were mostly long drops at roadside pullovers. We saw moose and bear, waterfalls, tundra and snow-capped mountains. Although Mom likes to take an arm to steady her these days when she walks, her spirit of adventure is strong. She’s not up to hiking, but she is more than up to riding in a car and oggling out the windows. Every day of the journey was a worship experience, praising our incredible Creator God, a shared adventure none of us will ever forget.


LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books for young people come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey truth. She loves hiking and always wants to know what's around the next corner. You can read a day-by-day log of her Alaska trip (with lots more pictures!) at her new travel blog, Wide-eyed Wanderer, and find out more about her books at her author site, Times and Places.


  1. What a wonderful trip, LeAnne, and a beautiful thing for your mother-in-law to experience at her age! I can imagine how unforgettable it would be for you and also how that novelist mind would be working overtime all the way!

  2. I agree, Jo, a fascinating place. I remember a song called North to Alaska (They're the only words I remember.) No one can write i a novel better than those who've experience the lay of the land firsthand. Waiting for YOUR book LeAnne!

  3. Thanks, Rita. I'm making progress with book 3, but then there are distractions--like a trip to Alaska or this week's family wedding in St. Louis.

  4. Love your descriptions, LeAnne. I am with Rita, waiting for YOUR BOOK about the ALCAN highway. WWII Historical fiction, taming the wilderness, creating a path... Finish your current commitments, then get started - please!

  5. LeAnne, fascinating post! I'm so glad you were able to do your dream road trip to Alaska, even though you had to wait fifty years for it to happen :)