So, a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Alaska

“You say potato, I say slut.” — Toni Brust

I think a good number of men, upon reaching their late 50s, realize that the opportunity for a mid-life crisis has been missed. One of the ways many of us deal with the inevitable despair this causes is to take a 4,000 mile road trip to Alaska to eat dinner.  Our friend Erik Emery has opened a restaurant in Skagway, and Toni opined that showing up unannounced would be, at a minimum, interesting.  “Sure,” I said.  Then I called jenphalian in New Jersey and said, “If you want to fly to Minnesota, Toni and I are going to take a 4000 mile road trip to eat dinner.”  “Sure,” she said.

Plans for departure went smoothly, although Jen almost ruined everything when she suddenly announced, two days before we left, that she didn’t want to get eaten by a bear.  Of course, that threw off our plans, but we were able to improvise.  (Later we ended up accidentally stopping in BC at “Rabid Grizzly Rest Stop,” but it was an honest mistake.  No, really.)

We set off going west on I-94 on Thursday, the 18th, around 3 pm.  Somewhere in North Dakota we happened to pass an SUV towing a boat, with two canoes on top. “Geez,” we said. “Got enough boats?” That was the excitement for North Dakota (well, there was ficus-fucker incident, but let’s pass over that, shall we?).

We continued to Montana, where Scenery begins. Mountains n stuff. We liked them. We passed a camper towing another camper. “Geez,” we said. “Got enough campers?” We arrived at the home of our friend Brandon, not far from Missoula. He has a beautiful place in the mountains, and ducks. “Geez, Brandon,” we said. “Got enough ducks?” (No, he needs more.) Jen fed the ducks. Jen held the ducks. Jen helped construct duck infrastructure. Then we played Cards Against Humanity with Brandon and my friend Kendra and her uncle. It was a good time. We spent a restful night, and left late the morning of Saturday the 20th. Jen was forcibly prevented from making off with the ducks. (To be fair, not all of them; she didn’t much like George).

Through Idaho, which was prettier than expected. Although, geez, Idaho, got enough potatoes? We continued on to Oregon, passing one of those trucks loaded with cars. Yes, you know what’s coming. It did. We reached Portland, where we hung out with Ann(e?) Bujold, her friends Wade and Amy, who made us wonderful barbequed salmon. We were graciously put up by Tigger, and Tigger’s son. When we left on Sunday morning, Tigger’s son (I think he’s 6) gravely presented us with a gift of tissue. We thought it was cute and adorable. A thousand miles later, we thought it was also a really, really good idea, since we had neglected to supply ourselves with any and we were in nosebleeding sorts of mountains.

We passed through Tacoma, where we found the only really irritating traffic of the trip north. Then Seattle, and so into British Columbia (Or British California as my more cynical Canadian friends call it). Our delay at the border was only an hour as the Canadian Customs agents verified that, I don’t know, I wasn’t a terrorist, or (worse) a drug dealer, or (worst of all) an American without enough money. Canada welcomed us warmly with a pebble that cracked the windshield. Then it was on to Vancouver, which is a lovely city that they seem to still be building. Geez, Vancouver. Got enough cranes? We spent the night in a cheap motel, and the next day, after an oil change, we found some BC Buds for Toni to replace what she had declined to attempt to bring over the border.

BC buds are damn fine buds
They give me a stoner erection
BC buds are such good buds that–
Sorry, what was the question?

My buddy rolled a BC blunt
He wanted me to try
I took a hit last December
I don’t remember
Anything until July.

BC buds are damn fine buds
They give me a stoner erection.
BC buds are such good buds that–
Sorry, what was the question?

So, yeah. BC. Mountains. An area called “Hells Gate.” 13% grades, switchbacks, scenery that is awesome sauce with extra garlic. It seems like the more beautiful a BC road is, the more dangerous it is. These passes had almost more beauty than we could stand. Jen did most of the driving, and all of the hard, scary driving.  One thing about BC puzzled us, though: all of those “avalanche warnings.”  A sign like, “Avalanche area, do not stop,” is bound to have a negative effect on tourism.   We thought it would be smarter for them to, you know, rebrand it.  Call it a “funvalanche.”  Make them part of the tourist campaign: “BC! Come for the funvalanche, stay because you’re buried under 12 tons of funvalanche!”  Just a thought.

It was in those mountains we saw various signs with place names like,  Sḵwx̱wú7mesh.  Really.  I mean, geez, got enough letters? (No, that’s why we had to use numbers n stuff).  The strangest thing we saw in the Hell’s Gate area, though, was an announcement that they were doing spot checks for drunk drivers.  We couldn’t figure it out.  Cliffs, 13% downgrades, switchbacks.  And they want to check for drunk drivers?  Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just search for bodies?

Speaking of hard, scary driving, the last couple of hours before we reached the Yukon Territory involved switchbacks with 8%  downgrades with construction at night and rain on unmarked gravel roads.

Jen drove those, too.

The only saving grace was that night didn’t last long.  Seriously.   At 11 PM, there was still a tiny bit of daylight clinging to the west.  At 12:05, we noticed the first hints of impending sunrise in the east.  No shit.  Sunrise was very, very slow, but still.  Oh, and once we were in the mountains, we encountered surprisingly few whale crossings.  (Don’t ask.)

After that, the Alaska Highway was cake. Beautiful, scenic as hell, and much easier than we’d been warned it would be.  But it is true that services are few, far between, and primitive. We managed to find gas and headed for the Klondike. We passed through Teslin.  We passed through Carcross.  We were fairly close to Haines.  Geez, got enough Stan Rogers references?  We left the Alaska highway and turned onto the Klondike Highway, stopping only long enough for Toni to hide her weed at a gas station for the return trip.  US customs was no problem.  We pulled into Skagway on Wednesday about 11:30 am.  We had breakfast at the Harbor House restaurant, and Toni sent an in-joke back to Erik via a special order.  Erik came out, looked at us, and his jaw dropped, and then we hugged.  He asked what we were doing there.  We explained that we were hungry.  I had the haddock burger, and it was a treat for the gods.  Later, we had the fried chicken after which there is no fried chicken.  Really.  I believe this is the Platonic Ideal of fried chicken, and nothing more perfect is possible.  I mean, geez, Erik, got enough gourmet food?  He also has this amazing maple thyme bacon flavored syrup for his Belgian waffles.  I asked, and he admitted that finding thyme-bacon maple trees was difficult, but claimed to have a reliable source.

We had lodging arranged at a hostel, so we checked in.  Later, we found a cabin that KICKED ASS.  Woods, view, kitchen, all the Stuff.  More food at the Harbor House.   Erik got us a ride on a tour train through the mountains.  There can never be enough O’s in WOW.  Skagway also boasts a place you can buy Sarah Palin memorabilia.   We spent some time looking through Alaska state laws for “justifiable arson” but weren’t able to come up with anything definite, so we left it alone.  Well, okay, I did moon it.  Twice.

We got to hang out with Erik and his charming and delightful fiancee, Kendall.  We played more Cards Against Humanity, because, well, that’s what you do after driving to Alaska.  I mean, you can’t eat all the time.

We said our good-byes on the morning of Sunday the 28th.  We were stopped going into Canada by a pair of customs agents who were sufficiently attractive to provide much of the conversation between Jen and Toni until we reached the Alaska highway.  I declined to help write the fanfic.  We stopped at the gas station where Toni recovered the rest of her BC weed.  She drove the Alaska highway while Jen and I took turns reading to her from The Incrementalists.  Toni and Jen believe the writers are criminals and commit abuses of feels.

Then the long, long, long trek down 37 and past it to Prince George, the town built like a casino: once you’re in, there’s no way out.  I’m not kidding; we spent 45 minutes trying to escape.  I think when the new Prince George comes of age, he’ll require them to change the name.  Or put in a couple of road signs.

After being up (Jen doing the bulk of the driving) for about 28 straight hours, we stopped at a hotel in Williams Lake (no, not in the lake, that’s the name of the town.  Sheesh).  We got motel rooms and and recovered, setting off for the border and Seattle around 7:30 am on the 30th.

Moose sighted: 3  Bears sighted: 2 (though one was on the back of a pickup truck.  Or maybe the guy was in the back and the bear was driving; we were kind of punchy by then).

We reached the US in good shape, and continued on to Tacoma–more traffic.  Megan Lindholm bought us a wonderful Italian dinner, and we got to hang out with her daughter Kat and some dogs, because dogs.  We’d planned to push on after dinner, but Jen’s back was hurting, so we accepted the offer of crash space.  The next morning (Wenesday the 31st) Megan and Fred took us to IHOP, and we hit the road.  I could have happily spent another week there, hanging with them and seeing Seattle, but home was calling and money was low.

We drove to Montana, and Toni unlocked her Mountain Driving achievement.  As dark came on we were half an hour from Brandon’s, and the deer began to attack.  Three times they tried to commit suicide by car, and three times Jen, who was then driving, thwarted them.  Then a fourth, a fawn, appeared right in front of us.  Jen braked, the fawn, for whatever reason, decided to ram into the car.  No damage to car or deer.  But what bothered me is that it then ran off into the woods.  People, if you happen to be a deer, and you hit a car, you should stay and exchange insurance information.  At the very least, you should stop and reassure the people in the car that you’re all right, and make sure they are.  What sort of parents are raising deer these days?

Brandon’s hospitality was delightful.  Jen fed the ducks.  She was, once more, forcibly prevented from making off with them.  Before us loomed the last leg: 17  driving hours, much of  it through North Dakota.  Would it be here that our intrepid warriors at last stumbled?  Would the valiant quest fail even at the very end?  The rain began, and we were still in the mountains of Montana.  Were there to be more kamakazi deer?  Would my poor, abused Saturn Ion finally give up, throwing us all over a mountain ledge?  Would North Dakota let us in, or god help us, out?  Fear gripped us, a sense of doom hanging over all.  You probably think I’m kidding.  Well, kinda, but you have to understand that Montana had it in for us.  I think someone told it that we thought BC was prettier or something.  We fought high winds, pelting rain, lightening, sleet, and hail.  Hail.  Who does hail on August 1st?  Montana when it’s pissed off, that’s who.  When the wind blew the construction barrel over right in front of us, I said, “Oh, come ON.”  I still don’t know how Jen avoided it.  Then hail hit the windshield hard enough to increase the crack from the Canadian pebble nearly all the way across.  Then visibility dropped to zero and we quit driving for a few minutes, because, well, we couldn’t see.

I think the only reason we got out of there alive is that when the worst of the storm hit we were past the worst of the mountains.  We escaped, and Jen gave up the wheel.  A rainbow happened. Toni took over, and brought us through the rest of Montana and a chunk of North Dakota through brutal winds, rain, lightning.  Finally, with dawn breaking and the sky clearing, they graciously let me drive a couple of hours.  I entered Minnesota under blue skies, with a mild breeze, and, in general, a perfect day.  We arrived back home today, August 2nd, at around 10am.  Then I slept.

Elapsed Time: Two weeks, 19 hours.
Miles: 7,384
Kilometers: Huh?  I don’t know.  Work it out.
Gas used: 236.4 gal.
Average MPG: 27.
Humor signifiers invented: 11
Callbacks: 928

We’re back now.  It’s good to be home.

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I play the drum.

31 thoughts on “So, a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Alaska”

  1. Damn, that’s an epic trip. Good job with the keeping everybody from dying three dozen times, Jen!

  2. Anyone who has to be forcibly prevented from kidnapping ducks is a woman with whom I could fall in love….

  3. What no song? Surely such a journey (4th Street reference, because it should always be 4th Street) deserves a ditty, or a ballad (Ode to the Ion?) or an epic poem set to music. Or maybe just this wonderful description. Welcome home, wanderers.

  4. I remember driving with my parents through the BC mountains. They stopped over a beautiful, scenic valley specifically to tell the three of us kids that this was where the mountain one day decided to sit on 12 people and an entire stretch of road. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy much of the rest of the ride.

    Glad you made it back safe!

  5. Cynthia-
    He did write a song! An epic anthem in honor of me. Lyrics were included in the above post.

    Missed you, Auntie!

  6. Re: The BC Bud Song.

    Now you understand why we’re a tad leery of Americans coming up here without enough money. VERY specific agriculture is the only thing keeping BC from being a “have-not” province. (says the smug bastard from Alberta).

  7. The next time you take an impromptu drive to Alaska via North Dakota, stop by in Fargo (well, Moorhead, same town really) and I’ll actually buy you that drink I owe you!

  8. re: the Alaska Highway — I just want to mention that “easier than we’d been told” just means that there weren’t, like, active lava rivers obstructing the road and that the terrifying bridges sort of had rails on the sides. It was only cake compared to the Klondike Highway (drive straight up a cliff through the clouds to an alien glacierscape) and bastardass doomway 37 on either side of it. Travel warnings for the Yukon Territory involve things like “rig protection for your gas tank” and “have three days of food and water in your vehicle”.

    re: ficus fuckers — I’m comfortable releasing our little song into the wild:

    Shut your fucking face, ficus fucker!
    You’re a branch-sucking leaf-licking ficus fucker!
    You’re a ficus fucker, yes it’s true,
    Nobody fucks ficii quite like you!

    Shut YOUR fucking face, ficus fucker!
    You’re the one who fucked your ficus, ficus fucker!
    You don’t plant or weed or mow your lawn,
    You just fuck your ficus all day long!

    *simultaneous canadian-style laughter*

    So that’s part of everyone’s life now, that’s a thing that has happened. Skzb consistently refused to sing this with us, but we know he enjoyed it in spirit, like the true meaning of Christmas. I feel like, without having the ficus fucker ditty, our Under the Sea sing-a-long in the ass-end of Washington wouldn’t have been so meaningful.

    @Matt Doyle — we were truly terrible at spontaneous stops. I think there were several stops we could have made. Next time.

  9. @Bilgerat: I think if we had pushed through a few more days, we could have made Japan. That probably would have necessitated a ferry eventually, though. Or submarine retrofitting on the Saturn, and they probably do that in Kamchatka, right?

  10. @jenphalian I’d say “I’ll hold you to that,” only I have no mechanism by which to do so and making the visit compulsory seems against the spirit of the thing anyway. :-D

  11. I do not personally have ducks, alas. I have a couple rubber duckies…

    If you come up during flood season, the park across the street behind my apartment building will be full of ducks, but it will also be full of the Red River. Which is usually about five hundred feet from my front door, except during March and April, when it’s about fifty feet from my front door, and a little less than fifty feet from my back door…

    On second thought, maybe don’t come during flood season.

    There’s a family of turkeys that live in the empty lot next door but I do not advise hand-feeding them.

  12. Steve, if there are baby goats around, I will PERSONALLY put said baby goat into Jen’s lap and a baby bottle in her hand….and she will be utterly and COMPLETELY mine. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

    Then, I will teach her one of my many goat parodies.

  13. CaliannG, if you could only see the look on my face whenever BABY GOATS are mentioned. The muscles in my forehead are getting sore from all the Wide-Eyed Wonder.

  14. How strong is your stomach? :D Yaiza is pregnant, and I don’t know when she is due, except that it will be SOMETIME in the next 4 weeks. If you are really, really lucky, she will decide that she needs to go while you are here…and if that happens, you will get to hold an absolutely FRESH from the oven, baby goat…..

    Which I assure you is the ABSOLUTELY most adorable thing in the Universe….

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