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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

Blowing out our coils

Aug 4, 2022 (Thu)

So, all this fuss and effort and equipment and soldiers to build a highway all the way from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks. Was it worth it?

By the time the highway was finished in 1942, it was pretty clear that the Japanese were not going to be sipping sake in downtown Anchorage. The highway was still useful for getting airplanes to Russia, though.

When Russia switched sides against Germany (on account of getting invaded by Hitler), we made a deal to sell them planes. The best way to get the planes to Russia was to fly them through Canada over to Alaska and then to Russia.

Unfortunately, in 1942, we didn’t have all the fancy pants navigational equipment we do now. And it’s close enough to the magnetic north pole that “North” on a compass didn’t always align with actual North and sometimes changed.

Following a nice highway, though, was a handy way to get there! Plus, there were airfields along the way, so if you needed to stop and get more packets of peanuts, it was easily done.

Overall, though, the highway doesn’t seem to have had a dramatic impact. Certainly, it made life easier for the folks that live up here. But it was still cheaper and faster to send things to Alaska by sea—and today by air.

Our research—consisting of looking at vehicles going the other direction—indicates that there’s not a lot of commerce using the Alaska Highway. Way back at the beginning (whew—remember those warm days?), we saw a lot of logging trucks.

Now—about halfway through, we see a lot of RV’s and trailers. So it’s certainly made it easier for tourists like us to drive along and get gas and souvenirs made in China. But we don’t see any bustling metropolises or housing developments or fledgling industries.

Of course, this area is buried in snow most of the year (signs along the highway tell us that from Oct to April chains are required), which makes life up here challenging, to say the least.

Still, it is a lovely road and we get to see a bunch of scenery we wouldn’t otherwise.

12:20 pm Watson Lake, YT (Yukon Territories)

We get a bit of a late start, because once again Gini is dealing with the bank and our dental insurance group. She finally gets it sorted out, but nobody understands what went wrong or why. We bypass the entire system and just give the insurance company permission to take the money directly from our pockets.

It’s a gloriously sunny day with temperatures in the 70’s. Ah!

12:50 pm Watson Lake, YT

Since Lake Waterson is a bustling metropolis of 800 people, it has more than a Trading Post. Specifically, it has some mechanics.

Our heat pump (A/C plus heat) hasn’t worked since our side trip down the Washboards of Doom, and we think that maybe all that dust clogged up the heat exchanging coils (we read about this on the internet!).

We need a mechanic who’s got some compressed air and isn’t afraid to climb up on top of Harvey. After a false start (“Our mechanic’s on lunch break, eh?”) we find a mostly toothless mechanic in a big shed behind the RCMP building. He’s our guy!

Gini has also been worried that our front license plate is hanging by a threaded bolt, and is going to fall off any moment. Robert is more sanguine about this—“We got two of them—they can just go ‘round to the back and look at it there!”

But as long as we have a mechanic…

Half an hour later, he’s spent 25 minutes adding a bolt to the front license plate (it’s real secure now!) and five minutes clambering on the roof. Our coils are blown, but the A/C still doesn’t work. Ah well, we don’t need it now…

2:30 pm Watson Lake, YT

After a stop for a sandwich, we take a look at the local “sign forest.” Anybody can hang signs in the sign forest and some are distance markers, some commemorate trips, and some are memorial markers. They are all people leaving their mark on the world.

A portion of the “world famous” sign forest in Watson Lake

3:30 pm North of Watson Lake, YT

Once again, cell service failed as soon as we left the village, so we’re a little vague about where, exactly, we are. Not that it much matters—it’s all rolling hills and trees and purple flowers. We get a close-up on the purple flowers, just in case anybody knows what they are. They are everywhere alongside the road and have been since the early days of our trip.

Hardy little buggers (hardius buggerus?)

The omnipresent purple flowers of Canada

5:30 pm Teslin, YT

We stop here at a Tlingit village, now mostly a service area of 239 people. It’s situated next to Teslin Lake, where our RV park is. We can tell it’s a good-size village, because we have cell service! We also have surprisingly good Wi-Fi at the campground.

The construction of the Alaska Highway was the first time the Teslin Inland Tlingit folks in this area spent any time around outsiders. Previously nomads, the contact caused them to settle down here. In 1995, they negotiated with the government of Canada for the right to rule themselves and make their own laws and regulations.

We think they have a mighty pretty stretch of land, and we’re happy we got to see it.

Our little slice of Teslin

By the numbers

“When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books You will be reading meanings.” W. E. B. Du Bois

Miles traveled so far: 1,589

Estimated Percentage of total road miles: 46%

Days so far: 11 days

Estimated Percentage of total road days: 35%

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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