North to the Future!
Driving though Canada to Alaska during the Covid-19 Pandemic
On June 29th I said my goodbye's to family and friends and hit the road to Alaska. After spending a year prior on the road traveling and then working in a small ski town I had a lot of time to try and think what the next chapter of life would be. Having moved on from my previous career I had to really convince myself to take a leap of faith and change careers to something I'd always dreamed of. Aviation.
Alaska is well known for it's aviation community. Even more importantly to me it's back country or bush flying community is unmatched. A lot of the most interesting flying happens up in Alaska due to the necessity of aviation in the state. Alaska is the least populated state per square mile (averaging 1 person per square mile!). There are many villages and towns not connected to the road system and are only accessible by boat or plane making flying a very popular mode of transportation. On top of that being so far north with constantly changing weather and unbelievable terrain Alaska makes some of the finest pilots around. I wanted to be involved in that from the beginning of my flying career so that only left one option. Drive to Alaska to start my flight training!
Driving to Alaska is normally not too difficult. I've actually done it before and really enjoyed it. It's a long drive but can be done in a little over a week if you're trying to make time. All the roads are now paved compared to many years past and a lot of the adventure of what it used to take to drive to Alaska are now history but by today's standards it's still quite the journey! However with recent Covid-19 pandemic things have changed considerably.
After visiting a friend in San Fransisco and family in Portland the nights before I started my journey early on July 1st. The border between Canada and the USA is officially closed apart from a few exceptions to "essential travel". After reading though all the statements put out by Canada and other official sources it seemed as though "study" was listed as one of the exceptions. With such a broad definition I thought things would go pretty smoothly at the border. Well I was wrong. The first sign of trouble was when I rolled up to the border crossing kiosk and told the agent my intentions. "You know the border is closed right?"was literally the first thing out of her mouth. After a few minutes of trying to convince her I was made to pull over to the inspection area and escorted into the main border patrol office. There I sat for over an hour again trying to explain I had no intentions of touring Canada and that I would be driving straight to Alaska. One agent after another had no idea what to make of my story and kept pushing it up the chain of command. After about an hour someone at the top came down and in a great Canadian ascent asked me a series of questions regarding where I'd be staying. Along with a requirement of only allowing 3 days of travel though Canada! I just nodded and agreed to anything they said in hopes they would just let me continue on and they eventually did.
It was amazing and heart breaking seeing Canadians and Americans at the very unprotected border visiting each other across the virtual line on the ground. Standing there in the rain catching up in person just to see each other while a creepy American border patrol agent sat in his car just watching to make sure nobody crossed illegally. There must have been several occurrences of this while I drove along the border to meet the main highway. Such interesting times we are living in.
Since the Corona Virus was raging in the United States I did my absolute best not to interact with any Canadians and stayed in my truck other than getting fuel. Whenever I fueled up I'd pay with my credit card at the pump. The first day I just wanted to get as many miles under my belt anyways so I jammed all the way up to Soda Creek BC and visited a campsite I had slept at before on our previous trip though BC. From Portland to Soda Creek I made just over 600 miles that day. It rained pretty much the whole time so not many photos were taken but below are some photos camping next to Blue Lake near Soda Creek.
The next morning I packed up everything (unfortunately wet) and hit the road. Another long day was ahead of me so not much time to dilly dally. Apart from taking the occasional photo from the side of the road I was able to make it another 600 miles that day.
This part of the trip goes though some very remote parts of British Columbia. In fact I dodge 19 bears total on the road that day. There were literally more bears on the road than vehicles which further made me feel very fortunate to be driving during these unfortunate times.
That night I camped at an iOverlander spot just off the road. While being close to the road it was shielded by a thick large line of trees and was completely hidden down a very short two track and overlooked a huge river or stream which was nice to fall asleep to. However this was the worst night of the whole trip for mosquitoes.
The following day the rain finally let up and I was greeted with some amazing views from the road.
After hundreds and hundreds of miles I finally reach the border of the Yukon and British Columbia. The Yukon was taking Covid-19 very seriously as I can imagine being a much more rural province they do not have the bigger resources of something like BC. I was greeted by a very friendly officer letting me know of the more heightend rules.
You must transit through Yukon within 24 hours.
Avoid stopping in rural communities.
Do not stop for non-essential reasons. If you must get gas, pay at the pump.
If you develop COVID-19 symptoms during your transit, stop and phone 811.
After giving them my info and signing a document agreeing I was on my way.
The weather just got better and better as I traveled north through the Yukon. The absolute abundance of wildflowers made it an amazing sight to see. They line the road almost the entire way though Canada but in the Yukon they just had such a crazy color palette.
After another grueling day on the road I was able to meet my daily goal of at least 600 miles and made it a full 690 miles that day. For driving the most miles in one day the universe treated me to one of the coolest campsites I've been to in a while. For those of you who have not driven this route before I want to add that there are numerous pull offs and small two track trails that litter this route. You have so many options to choose from if you're willing to explore these small trails that lead off the road. It's also exciting because you never know what you're going to find!
This small trail was located near the town of Destruction Bay. Destruction Bay sits on a beautiful long lake called Kluane Lake. It's a very unpopulated area and makes for great camping near the lake if you can find a spot among the trees. This little two track was sorta hidden between the trees and the trail wasn't shown on GaiaGPS but it looked like it might lead to the lake. After about 5 mins of driving quite slow and dodging low hanging branches I made it down to the shore line and followed the bluff along the lakes edge until it deadened in a small bay. The views were great, there were hardly any mosquitoes and the wind was absolutely calm. What else can you ask for?
The next morning I awoke well rested and feeling super grateful that I had found such an awesome campsite on my last day in Canada. I took my time waking up and looking at the mountains from my roof top tent. When I finally got up I decided to break camp before attempting to make breakfast. Just after putting the roof top tent away and thinking about making a bowl of cereal I caught someone staring at me from the far tree line!
A huge grizzly bear had been watching me between keeping his head down eating all the wildflowers for breakfast. I just stood in amazement and watched as he chomped down on the bouquet in front of him. I then realized I needed a photo of him. So I slowly grabbed the camera and starting shooting. He spent a few more minutes eating and then disappeared into the trees. I decided to skip breakfast that morning and keep moving. What an amazing experienced. I've seen grizzly's before but never that close or outside the comfort of the truck. This will be a camp spot to remember!
From Destruction Bay to the Alaskan border was only a 2.5hr drive that went well. At the Alaskan border they were much concerned with my travel and handed me a packet and sent me on my way. Took maybe 60 seconds to enter back into the USA.
The roads in the Yukon were not great but once you cross over from Canada into Alaska they get considerably worse. There will be what looks like massive jumps built into the road only marked by a small flag telling you that you're about to be airborne! Some incredibly massive potholes you don't see until it's too late or just pavement missing for miles and miles. I can't imagine being a trucker on these roads. Must be brutal.
After a long while of nothing you finally reach the town of Tok, Alaska. Tok was in the middle of celebrating 4th of July so I decided to get fuel quickly and keep moving before the parade they were having on the only highway was about to get too crowded.
Leaving Tok I headed down the Glenn Hwy towards south central Alaska. One funny thing I picked up in Alaska is they don't use highway numbers, like ever. All the main roads/highways (there aren't many in Alaska) are called by their names. Along the Glenn Hwy there were moose, mountains, lakes and bush planes all seen from the comfort of the truck. With the sun shining it felt like I had arrived somewhere I really wanted to be. Surrounded by adventure and the great outdoors.
After driving 3,322 miles in basically 4 days I finally made it into Palmer Alaska! What a journey. I really wish I could have taken my time coming up here but at the same time I'm just grateful to have made it and be that much closer to my ultimate goals. I'll be staying in Palmer while I figure out where I'm going to be living and training to be a pilot. Next step is checking out flight schools and tracking down cabins or apartments for rent!
Thanks for reading! I'm usually against geo-tagging or revealing special places to camp but I'll be lucky to see more than 10 people reading this blog. So if you're interested in the few places I camped along the way in this blog post see the GPS coordinates below:
Soda Creek/Blue Lake BC 52.34318, -122.23457
Cassiar Hwy Spot BC 56.90194, -130.05852
Destruction Bay Spot YT 61.18247, -138.61572