A few years ago, we started talking about going back to visit Alaska before Spencer graduated from high school and went off to college. We lived there from 1989-1996, and Spencer was born there in 1990. There are lots of good memories from those years in the “49th State”. We hope you enjoy the pictures and stories of our drive from Illinois to Alaska and back – a round trip of some 9,500 miles. Here we go!
DAY 1: Sunday July 1st
Mascoutah, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska
Today 462 miles : Trip total 462 miles
Day 2: Monday July 2nd
Omaha, Nebraska to Murdo, South Dakota
Today 411 miles : Trip total 873 miles
Day 3: Tuesday July 3rd
Murdo, South Dakota to Sheridan, Wyoming
Today 442 miles : Trip total 1,315 miles
Day 4: Wednesday July 4th
Sheridan, Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Today 355 miles: Trip total 1,670 miles
Thar’ she blows! Old Faithful. (Left – 2007 / Right – 1996)
Day 5: Thursday July 5
Yellowstone, Wyoming to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana
Today 403 miles: Trip total 2,073
Day 6: Friday July 6
Malmstrom AFB, Montana to Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)
Today 530 miles: Trip total 2,603 miles
Day 7: Saturday July 7th
Edmonton, Alberta to Fort Nelson, British Columbia
Today 653 miles: Trip total 3,256 miles
We were up early and on the road by 6:00am. We decided to drive for an hour before stopping for breakfast at McDonalds in Whitecourt. Then, it was on to Dawson Creek, the start of the ALCAN (Alaska/Canada Highway).
We made it to Fort Nelson and stayed at Woodlands Inn, a very nice (new) hotel. We also got our first reminder of how expensive everything is on the ALCAN. Gas was $5.00 per gallon, and a medium pizza was $25.00. Ouch!
Day 8: Sunday July 8th
Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Teslin Lake, Yukon
Today 475 miles: Trip total 3,731 miles
I awoke this morning with terrible nausea and headache. Could it be the greasy pizza from last night? I didn’t want to slow down our progress, so I decided to get out the pillows and sleep in the 2nd row seat while Beth and Spencer drove. I rested for about 2 hours, then awoke when I heard the excitement – wildlife all over the road!
Day 9 : Monday July 9th
Teslin Lake, Yukon to Tok, Alaska
Today 503 miles: Total miles 4,234
Day 10: Tuesday July 10th
Tok, Alaska to Anchorage, Alaska
Today 330 miles: Trip total 4,564 miles
This is the church on base where Spencer was baptized in 1990. (Left – with Chaplain Andrews / Right – 2007)
Flashback to 1995 in the park with Spencer.
Days 11 – 16
Anchorage and surrounding areas.
800 more miles of driving – Trip total 5,364 miles
Then and now – (Left – 1991 / Right – 2007)
Looking out over the water at Sleeping Lady from Anchorage.
Sleeping Lady is a low mountain (just over my left shoulder)
that legend says is a sleeping princess waiting for her warrior to come home.
(Left – circa 1994 / Right – 2007)
Later, we stopped at Subway and took a picnic lunch up to Flattop overlook above Anchorage.
The city is visible to the left, and Sleeping Lady mountain is visible behind that.
This was one of our favorite places to hike and picnic when we lived here.
Hey, I’ve done this before. Stand back and watch a pro!
(Left – circa 1994 / Center – circa 1995 / Right – 2007)
I think we found enough gold to pay for our gas (from the parking lot back to the highway).
Then and now – Seward harbor, about 1993 and 2007
Coming back from Seward, we stopped at Portage Lake.
Portage Glacier used to be visible in the background as late as the mid 1990’s,
but now has receded around the corner of the valley.
(Left – circa 1993 / Right – 2007)
Then and now – By Portage Visitors Center : About 1993 and 2007
Next, we drove up to Eagle River
Family photos at Eagle River
(Left – 1990 / Right – 2007)
We stopped by the Eagle River Visitors Center, located about 30 minutes from Anchorage.
We hiked many of the trails in this park during our years in Anchorage.
(That’s Spencer jumping in back in 1995 – CANNONBALL!!! and exploring underwater.)
Day 17: Tuesday July 17th
Anchorage, Alaska to Tok, Alaska
Today 325 miles: Trip total 5,589 miles
Well, it’s been fun reminiscing but it’s time to start heading home. We have 4,500 miles to go.
We left Anchorage early Tuesday morning so we could split the drive to Dawson City into
2 reasonable days rather than 1 LONG day. That would allow us to spend more time
on the “Top of the World Highway” the next day, too.
Day 18: Wednesday July 18th
Tok, Alaska to Dawson City, Yukon
Today 190 miles : Trip total 5,779
Day 19: Thursday July 19th
Dawson City, Yukon to Teslin Lake, Yukon
Today 460 miles: Trip total 6,239 miles
Day 20: Friday July 20th
Teslin Lake, Yukon to Fort Nelson, British Columbia
Today 476 miles: Trip total 6,715 miles
We awoke to the sound of rain this morning. Hard rain.
Oh well, we’ve been pretty lucky up to now,
A rainy, foggy start this morning. About a half-hour into the trip, we noticed a pickup truck way down in the grass and mud, about 30 feet below the road level and about 75 feet from the road. The elderly driver had apparently fallen asleep at 5:30am and driven straight off the road and down the embankment. At least he picked a smooth place to exit the road. He said he was not injured at all, and had plenty of food and water. We said we would send help from the next town.
That next town would be Watson Lake, nearly 150 miles away. We spotted a Canadian Mountie (not on a horse, but in a new Ford Explorer) and gave him all of the details. The guy surely had a long wait for help.
Day 21: Saturday July 21st
Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Whitecourt, Alberta (Canada)
Today 549 miles : Trip total 7,264 miles
Day 22: Sunday July 22nd
Whitecourt, Alberta to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Today 573 miles: Trip total 7,837 miles
A beautiful day. We left Whitecourt early, after a great breakfast in the hotel,
and headed east through Edmonton and on to Saskatchewan.
Day 23: Monday July 23rd
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Camp Ripley, Minnesota
Today 700 miles: Trip total 8,537 miles
BACK IN THE USA!!!
Day 24: Tuesday July 24th
Camp Ripley, Minnesota to Union Grove, Wisconsin
Today 461 miles : Trip total 8,998 miles
We decided to head over to Beth’s home in Wisconsin since the county fair was this week. It would be a good chance to see a lot of people in a short period of time. The weather was great, and we were a couple of days ahead of schedule. We arrived at her parents’ home late afternoon.
Day 25 – 29: Union Grove, Wisconsin
The next day, Beth and Spencer drove over to the fair (about 10 miles away) in the afternoon. About 3:00, Beth called me and said the van suddenly would not go over 25mph. She was only a mile away, and made it home. When I checked it out, it appeared there was a serious transmission problem. I limped it down the road a few miles to the local Chevrolet dealer, and they confirmed my worst fears – the transmission was completely shot. The repair would be about $2,500.00 – $3,000.00. The van is 11 years old and has 139,000 miles on it, so we decided it just wasn’t worth it. We have two other cars – one has 129,000 miles and the other “new” one has 98,000 miles. Do we need 3 old cars? No. So, we sold it to a local mechanic who repaired it and later sold it to a single mom who needed a car. Bad news, though. A few weeks later, the van was stolen when she drove up into Milwaukee. This van sure had an exciting life!
Looking back, it was a real blessing the van did not break down up in the Yukon on a desolate stretch of road.
There were places where it was 150 miles to the nearest “town”. That would not have been a good situation.
We rented a car over the weekend and drove down to Illinois to bring back one of our other cars.
We took half of the stuff home in the rental car, then the rest when we returned home on Monday.
Day 30: Monday July 30th
Union Grove, Wisconsin to Mascoutah, Illinois (HOME!!)
Today 350 miles : Trip total 9,348 miles
It was GREAT to be home!! After living in hotel rooms for a month, the house seems HUGE! It has been very hot and dry here, so the yard and gardens were in bad shape. We had to laugh – there was one huge weed growing just outside our back door. It was about 6 feet tall, and had a root so deep I had to dig it out with a shovel. The neighbors had been getting tomatoes from our garden (like we had asked them to), but we still had a few almost ready to eat. Everything was fine in the house, and soon we were back to our normal routines.
Summary: Overall, a great trip!! The first few days, we wondered if we bit off more than we could chew, but we took time to rest after long days of driving, and tried not to overdo it. It wasn’t easy being cooped up together in the van for 9,400 miles, but we still had a good time, and have many great memories to carry with us. It was nice to see Alaska, but we did not feel the huge rush of emotions we thought we might when we drove into Anchorage. Many things have changed, and life goes on. We are happy in Illinois, and do not regret leaving Alaska. If had stayed, we would have missed the opportunity to live in Germany for 3 years. No matter where life takes you, things work out.