Over the years, and the trips up and down the Al-Can, I've learned quite a few things. Here they are, in a rather random order.
Appearances matter, but only a little.
Some of the coolest stops we made along the Al-Can have also been some of the trashiest-looking. To me, there's nothing cooler than walking into a building that I'm not quite sure how it's still standing against the annually brutal snowfall and then engaging an old-timer in a discussion of how things are and how they used to be. Remember my description of Johnson's Crossing? The renovation made it look nicer, but I think the place lost a lot in the translation.
No matter how cool you think your rig is, someone else will think otherwise.
I was really rather proud of my antique Airstream travel trailer, built in 1954. Yet I was turned away from more than one campground where they didn't want any "antiques," no matter how well-maintained, or any other trailer for that matter that was older than X (usually 10) years. Ultimately it didn't matter much; we always found a place to park it.
The realities of physics matter more over the long haul than the short.
Both cargo trailers I've hauled the length of the Al-Can failed me. One looked good but wasn't built well--no springs, cheap axles, etc. When overloaded it kept going for a great many miles, but when physics finally caught up it got me at the worst time. The second trailer was much better: nicely built, sprung axles, etc. Unfortunately it, too, had cheaper axles that weren't capable of handling a lot of weight; it had been built primarily as a rolling workshop. It, like its predecessor, bravely kept going for thousands of miles, and also like its predecessor, it gave me troubles in a really bad place.
Planning a journey is important, and yet....
It's important to figure out roughly how much fuel it'll take you and what it'll cost to the nearest hundred dollars or so, and then to plan for that expense. It's also important to consider what you'll do in the event of a wheel blowout or some such incident. Then there's always the "where are we going to sleep" question to consider. And yet....
...thinking the journey will go as planned is folly
No matter how good you are, you're gonna forget something. Just when you've got everything un-forgotten, then, Mother Nature is likely to throw something--a forest fire, a mudslide, a blizzard, something--at you. If not that, you might get a flat tire or four (yes, it's possible to launch into one of the graveled construction spots and lose all four tires at once). On a smaller scale, keeping rigidly to a time schedule for the day makes it really easy to miss out on conversations with people you meet along the way, and those are often the parts of the journey that turn out to be the most meaningful later on.
People are people--even those who like to say "eh" a lot, eh?
Saying you're from Alaska yields widely varying results depending on where you're from--near Edmonton, it granted us an enthusiastic, almost heroic, welcome, as it did once or twice in Montana as well. But once the hoopla is over, no matter where each of the participants in the conversation is from, it still boils down to a conversation between two people. We like to talk about others in terms of generalizations, as in "Canadians are ____" or "Alaskans are ____" or "Texans are ______," but that's really all bullshit once you make a connection and a real conversation begins.
Never pass by a gas station (or a nice bathroom) without stopping
The thing about the Alaska Highway is that you never know if the next gas station along the way will be open. That's especially true outside of tourist season. It's easy to get so focused on driving and making your time ticks that you leave a valuable refueling (or emptying) point in your dust. Then again, life's kind of like that in general, isn't it?
Reaching one ending doesn't mean you can stop.
It's always been strange to me that they make such a big deal out of Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway. Mile Zero, if you recall that post, is out in the middle of British Columbia. There's absolutely nothing bad about Dawson Creek, mind you, but from the journey-long perspective, what exactly are you supposed to do when you reach Mile Zero? Stop? "Okay, I reached the end, I'm done--oh, look at those pretty trees"? No. If you're driving to Colorado, or to Mississippi, then you keep driving to Colorado, or to Mississippi. That doesn't mean you can't stop and celebrate, and maybe even dart across one and a half (ish) lanes of frighteningly busy traffic circle to brave a picture with the Mile Zero post.
Yay, you made it that far!
Now keep going.
Hope you enjoyed!
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