Like many Americans, my wife and I have developed a love of travel, particularly within the United States. This age-old adventurous idea of exploring that been experienced over and over again by travelers from Christopher Columbus to Lewis & Clark to author Charles Steinbeck with his dog, Charley.
My own love of travel began with a very unique situation. Growing up, my family moved nearly 80 times before I graduated high school and we “settled” in almost 20 states. (Read more about that here.) I was able to call Colorado, Montana, Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, California, Nebraska, Texas and many more states, “home.” While there were many aspects of this life I did not care for and required me to overcome, I did fall in love with the idea of road tripping this great nation.
My wife, Heidi, grew up with a bit more of a traditional travel experience in the early 70s and 80s. Their family camped, motelled, and RVed their way around the nation from Ohio. They enjoyed their southern Spring Break and summer trips, but they also traveled for ministry out west to places like Arizona.
While our love of travel took us south and on the east coast from Ohio while our kids were growing up, we fell head over heels in love with traveling further west with one particular trip—by car—to Alaska.
The idea started with a seemingly innocuous first conversation.
“The Air Force won’t ship my car there!” my daughter, Morgan exclaimed.
“What do you mean they won’t ship your car? But, you will be his wife!” I retorted.
“I know, but they will only ship his car since we weren’t married when he was first stationed in Alaska,” she explained.
“Well that doesn’t make any sense. You will be his wife and you will obviously need a car. How are you gonna get your car from Ohio to Alaska?!” I wondered out loud.
“I dunno, maybe I’ll have to sell it and buy another one.”
“But, you just bought your first new car. You gotta be able to take your car with you,” I continued.
This is how it began, or something like this.
Morgan, our eldest daughter, was going to be married in a few weeks. Her husband-to-be, Kade had joined the Air Force and was now going to be stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, just outside Anchorage. It seemed they could ship his car to Alaska, but even though they were getting married soon, would not ship her brand new Chevrolet Spark to Anchorage where they were getting their first apartment together as a married couple.
A few days later I remembered that my dad had always wanted to drive the Alaskan Highway. When he talked about it, I imagined some long desolate road to nowhere. I also envisioned some rough backroads that probably needed a 4X4 vehicle to pass. My dad had a way of taking regular automobiles to places they had no business going.
One such example was when we took the “backroad” trail to Bodie, California, a ghost town near the Nevada/California border when we were kids. I don’t remember if it was a Chevy Impala or one of our Studebakers, but I do remember it was not a 4-wheel drive vehicle and trust me, that path required it. We broke down in the middle of nowhere and I have no idea how we completed our path to Bodie, but I definitely remember that beautiful ghost town in between the Nevada desert and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California.
This all got me curious though so I jumped on the internet and started researching the Alaskan Highway. Turns out, it’s called the Alaska Highway, no “n.” And it extends from Dawson Creek in British Columbia (Canada) to Delta Junction in Alaska (USA).
Oh, I thought, I wonder how we would get to it from Ohio.
I google mapped Springfield, Ohio to Anchorage, Alaska. Turns out, it was only about 3,900 miles. No big deal, I thought, that’s barely more than the entire length of the United States.
But, wait a minute, that route barely runs anywhere that I really want to see and is mostly through Canada where it’s usually pretty cold (I hate the cold) and on top of that, Google’s route wasn’t going to take us on enough of the Alaska Highway if we were to do it. Let me check another idea, I thought.
I google mapped Springfield, Ohio to San Francisco, California since it looked pretty much due west. Turns out, that goes through Colorado, right by my high school hometown of Byers, Colorado and through those beautiful, majestic Rocky Mountains. The route also ran through desolate, but gorgeous Nevada and right through a route around Lake Tahoe, an area I had heard about and ending in San Francisco, a city that I had always wanted to see with a Golden Bridge that nearly everyone recognizes immediately.
Turns out, we could head north through the Redwood Forest and into Seattle, an epic destination, no doubt. But, that would not be our final destination. We would have to drive north into Canada and intersect that Alaska Highway that my dad had dreamt about. And from there, we would have to traverse the mountain ranges in Canada before even entering Alaska. Talk about an epic trip that would last nearly SIX THOUSAND MILES.
How cool would that be?! I thought. But, no way anyone would want to do that with me. I couldn’t imagine Morgan would want to take her car all that way and what would my wife, Heidi think? I had to find a way to broach the subject with her first.
“You know how Morgan said that the Air Force wouldn’t ship her car to Alaska?” I asked her.
“Yeah, that’s crazy, huh. I definitely would have thought they would.”
“Yeah, crazy.” I said thinking about another crazy idea. “The only other solution I could think about would be for someone to drive it there, so I googled it. Turns out, it’s almost four thousand miles of desolate driving mostly through Canada.” I continued quickly, not stopping for her response. “FOUR THOUSAND MILES. Can you believe that? And almost nothing to see along the way.” I continued. “That doesn’t seem like a fun time at all.”
Her expression was a little quizzical and I could tell she was trying to understand what I was getting at.
“Yeah, that would be nuts,” she replied.
“But,” I continued, “it turns out, if you go due west from here, you can go through Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, Nevada Desert, Lake Tahoe, California and hit San Francisco at the coast. Then you could head north through the Redwood Forest to Seattle, and then go into Canada and catch the Alaska Highway which would lead you into Alaska and finally Anchorage. It’s a few more miles that way, but definitely more scenic and fun!” (TWO THOUSAND MILES more to be exact, but I withheld that information at the time.)
“What? Why would you do that?” she asked.
“I mean, if you wanted to make it ‘scenic’ and see some great stuff along the way,” I explained.
“No, I mean, why would you google that? Who is going to drive her car all that way? She can’t drive that!”
“Uh, well, uh. Me?”
“I mean, I would take Morgan with me, but I could drive her car all that way with her and we could see a lot of cool stuff. I could actually drive the Alaska Highway that my dad always dreamed about!”
“What?!? You are not driving all that way without ME!”
“Oh, you would want to go all that way in her car?” I asked.
“YES! No way you would drive that without me!”
“Well, I mean, I know we’re a team and all, but that’s a long way. I never would imagine that you would try that. Are you sure?!” I asked, a bit stunned that she would even consider it.
“And there’s no way Morgan would drive that with you! She is flying there after their honeymoon. She already has her flight.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense. Well, if you’re open to it, we can see if she wants us to do that. We could make an anniversary trip of it. I think based on her wedding timeframe and when we would need to leave before school starts, we could probably get there some time around our anniversary. But, we would have to fly back right away because school starts shortly after that.”
Heidi and I had both been working school jobs which afforded us the opportunity to utilize our summers however we wanted. We had definitely taken advantage that summer as we prepared for Morgan’s wedding and now, apparently A TRIP OF A LIFETIME.
Morgan was just as surprised as Heidi was, but definitely open to the idea. She couldn’t believe that we would drive her car that distance, but she wanted her car and she loved the idea of having us visit her new life in Alaska.
We were all in! But, next, came the challenge of making the trip as cheap as possible and breaking it down into days, sections, and making lodging arrangements.