Take It Easy   6 comments

You’re going on a road trip: where are you headed? With who? What are your snacks? Music? Plans?

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Alaskans and Road Trips

10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Great Falls, MT | PlanetWare
Great Falls, Great Falls, Montana

Alaska is a BIG state. If we split in two, Texas would be the third largest state in the United. The Northern Region district of the Alaska Department of Transportation is larger than the State of Texas and it is one of three Alaska transportation districts. It is almost 400 miles (about 640 kilometers) from Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, to Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska which is where I live. Fairbanks doesn’t have the population to support a massive shopping district, so if we want to indulge in retail therapy, we have a LONG drive to a mall (about 7 hours in the winter, about 5 in the summer).

To get our summer fish, we drive just about 750 miles round trip to a river village called Chitina. That’s on the Richardson Highway rather than the Parks (which is the quickest way to Anchorage). It’s also a more rugged road, built over an old stagecoach and sled dog trail from the pioneer days.

Sometimes when we take these trips, it’s just Brad (hubby) and me and other times it’s friends or one or both of our kids. I used to do the Parks drive to Anchorage at least once a year with the teenagers from our church. The Southern Baptist Convention of Alaska has a big youth evangelism conference in Anchorage about this time of year (covid exception, of course). That involved a vanload full of teenagers, frequent stops to go to the bathroom and buy snacks.

Truthfully, it’s hard to get tired of Alaska road trips. The scenery is AMAZING. Both the Parks and the Richardson cross the Alaska Range. You can see Mount Denali (McKinley) from the Parks (if it cooperates and emerges from the clouds), but there are several peaks just as beautiful visible along the Richardson, plus there’s this massive lake at the Summit (called Summit Lake) that is the headwaters from the Copper River salmon run.

But …

If I had to choose a road trip to plan, I would return for the Seattle to Great Falls Montana run. I did this drive in November, but it was dark for more than half the trip on the way to Montana and it was snowy and cloudy for the return journey. Plus, it’s a long drive for just one person to drive in a single day. It’s about 10-12 hours and there are elk on the road. Really, the buck was beautiful as he stepped out into the road. Fortunately, I’m used to dodging moose or else his harem would have been buck-less.

So I’d love to do that drive again, maybe spend the night in Idaho or Missoula, and have Brad (or one of my kids) along to share the driving duties. Brad would want to turn things over to me before we got to Lookout Mountain because the highway literally hangs off the side of a mountain and he doesn’t like heights. He feels the same about Hurricane Gulch on the Parks Highway. If we can’t cross at night, he prefers that I drive.

Snacks

We always start out with coffee. Road trips in Alaska are LONG, so you start early and…yawn. Caffeine is a necessity. We bring some fruit because it tends not to make the driver drowsy because road trips are long and…yawn. We also bring along a picnic of sandwiches and potato chips with some Coca Colas in plastic bottles that we took out of the freezer just before we left. Wait about four hours and they’ve mostly thawed, but when you crack the seal, the CO2 is still icy cold sometimes with small fragments of ice. Ah, refreshing. And we also bring along a large container of water. If we’re driving the Parks or I also found that most of the trip to Montana afforded this choice — we stop every four hours to stretch our legs and use the facilities. Usually, you have to buy something to use a store’s bathroom, so it’s whatever looks good in the grocery cases of the convenience store/gas station. Ice cream hits the spot in the Alaska summer. We do get hot weather in the summer.

Music

Alaska is big, so radio doesn’t always follow you everywhere and if you have reception, you listen to the one station that is coming in. It’s the only reason why I’ve listened to Alex Jones ever, for example. Tim Bell too. Often we load some rock music on my phone (better to keep you awake when you’re driving 12 hours through the dark) or occasionally we’ll load some podcasts. I could listen to Jordan Peterson for 5-6 hours without a break, but Brad likes a bit more variety. On that trip to Montana in November, I chased K-Love around the dial because it was the only station coming in for most of the trip and I’d already exhausted my podcasts on the airline portions of my journey.

Plans?

Well, my goal was to see my sister when I visited Great Falls. This time, that would be a sub-plan, but I would want to take my time on the drive and see the Rockies for real (I could sense they were there in the dark and snow last time). I would want to stop at the high point of the Continental Divide. I’d like to have lunch in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My daughter says it’s gorgeous – again, it was too dark and snowy to tell. We’d probably spend the night in Missoula and then take our time driving the back route to Great Falls — the better to not hit the elk.

I got to eat dinner is Ellenberg Washington on my trip, but I didn’t have any time to drive around. My mom lived there in the 1950s, so it would be cool to look up her old address, just for kicks.

I’d want to take our time driving through Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. It was beautiful, but I was in a rush and going 80 mph negated a lot of lollygagging. (Seriously, with a speed limit of 80 mph, it was hard to even notice the mountains). I’d also love to see Great Falls itself, including the falls that give the town its names. There was a blizzard and covid when I was there, plus it was past the shoulder season, so I mainly saw my hotel room, a couple of restaurants and a lot of roads. I’d plan the road trip portions so that we stopped at different places on the outbound and inbound journeys.

So Many Choices

Truthfully, there are so many road trips I’d like to do. I’d love to have the time and money to drive all the “blue” highways of the Lower 48. Those are the secondary roads — the original major highways before the interstate system was built. Typically, they have better views, pass through fascinating towns, and generally provide a better travel experience than the Interstates that exist to get you from Point A to Point B. Road trips are a great way to hang out with your companions and see parts of the country we modern Americans too often simply fly over.

Posted March 15, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

6 responses to “Take It Easy

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  1. 750 miles to get fish? Wowee… I thought my 17 miles to the supermarket was bad enough, lol!

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    • Alaska red salmon is $40-50 a pound in the store. It costs us about $350 to catch 40 salmon ourselves — about 200 pounds when processed. There have been winters (30 years ago) when salmon represented all the protein we could afford. And it’s a lovely drive and Chitina is a hard but amazing place to hang out. I think I’m going this year. Last year someone had to stay here with my father-in-law.

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  2. My daughter in Australia had a ten-hour round trip to buy shampoo when she lived in the outback. She loved it. They used to get the plane out to fetch pizza, which is just weird.

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    • We have some friends who fly in from Tanana (about 180 miles by road) to get fast food here in Fairbanks. Lots of people in the villages here do all their shopping in the summer and have it barged in before freeze up. If you forgot to buy shampoo, you do with until breakup (thaw).

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  3. Great Falls in on my list of places to go. We’ve come close to actually planning a trip a couple of times, but life happens.

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