Hi everyone! If yesterday was crazy, today was totally insane. I guess I’ll start at the beginning with yesterday:
We woke up in the morning and I had to run out to the car to get something. I stepped outside to see snow falling! Yesterday it had been 70 degrees and sunny so this came as a total shock. When I told Andrew he told me that we needed to keep going if we were going to make it to Anchorage on time, so we headed off on the road.
The snow was falling but wasn’t sticking to the roads, so we made pretty good time into Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaskan Highway! This is the official beginning of the long, sometimes dangerous “highway”/2 lane road up to Fairbanks AK. It’s the only way to get to Alaska if you’re in a car so it’s a pretty important road! We were getting off in Alaska to go to Anchorage so we wouldn’t make it to the final mile post, but it was fun to take pictures at mile 0!
Once we started off on the Alaska Highway, I started getting excited because I knew we were going to see mountains! We started going higher and higher, and there was a lot of snow on the ground and on the trees but the road stayed clear. The views were beautiful!
And then all of a sudden, the road was covered in hard packed snow and ice. At first we were scared of slipping, but we quickly learned that the main struggle was that the surface was so bumpy and we were bouncing all over the place. Andrew was freaking out and I was literally holding my breath and praying the road would get better. It didn’t. And then I realized that we were under a half tank of gas and forgot that we were using kilometers instead of miles and told Andrew that we had somehow missed the last gas station before Fort Nelson and we were a total mess. And then after a while we came to Pink Mountain, which had a gas station! Andrew and I tried to laugh about the fact that I had confused miles with kilometers in the guide book, but it really wasn’t funny, especially since it meant we had a lot longer to go than we thought. When we went inside to pay for gas it got even worse – they told us that the road was closed 30 kilometers north due to a big snowstorm and there was only 1 plow running so they were unsure when it would open. We had a pre-payed non-refundable hotel reservation in Fort Nelson, but it looked like it was impossible to get there. I am the most hardcore organizer/planner on earth, so watching my intricate travel plans come apart made me want to explode. I was literally in shock as we drove across the street to the one other building in town, the Pink Mountain Motor Inn. The lot was full of other stuck travelers but they had a room available for us so we took it. It was so small and dingy but at least it was warm and safe! Although it turned out that the water had a high iron content and was undrinkable, so we had to use bottled water to brush our teeth. After settling in we started talking to other people in the lobby. We found 4 other groups of travelers who were coming from the lower 48 to Alaska for summer jobs, and it made me feel so much better knowing that we weren’t the only crazy people doing this! We also met an older man who lived up there all winter working for an oil company, and he told us a lot about the conditions on the road and also shared some hunting stories with us. It was fun meeting new people and learning what brings people up north!
We went to bed early and woke up at 6:00 am. The sun was shining and many people had left already, so we headed out at 8:00.
The road was still snowy but we figured that we had to keep going on. At first there were a lot of clear sections of road and we were doing okay. The lack of clouds even gave us some amazing views of the huge snow covered mountains that we weren’t able to see last night!
But as we went on we realized that the roads were once again bumpy. Sometimes the bumpy ice only lasted for a minute or two, and sometimes it lasted 10 minutes or more. Andrew was scared our car was going to fall apart even though it’s a trail-rated Jeep! And then 2 hours into our trip it started to snow again. Now even the clear sections of the road were dangerous due to fresh snow. Andrew kind of lost it at this point and said that he didn’t think he could keep doing this for 9 more hours. I didn’t know what to do because he’d been so adamant about staying on schedule, and I also just really wanted to get out of the mountains so we could stop stressing out. We decided to make it to Fort Nelson, which was our original stop last night and a pretty big town, and talk to some people there about the road conditions further on. And then about 20 minutes from Fort Nelson Andrew lost control of the car and we spun out, flew off the road, and ended up in a snowy ditch only a few feet from an electric pole. We were okay (although I did hurt my knee) but we knew the car wasn’t getting out of there without some serious help.
This was basically my worst nightmare come true. I was standing on an isolated highway in the snow looking down at my new car carrying all of my belongings and I didn’t know how to get it back on the road or if we could even keep driving it. We had no cell service and wouldn’t have wanted to make a phone call anyways due to roaming charges. No one knew where we were. And then we got lucky! The first car to drive by was by some kind of miracle a police officer! He not only let us sit in his car to warm up, but called us a tow truck and even helped take a look at our car for damage. He said he didn’t see any and figured that when the tow truck came we could just head off to Fort Nelson as planned. He did mention that the roads were really bad and the tow trucks were very busy pulling other cars and semi trucks out of ditches so once we got to Fort Nelson we should try to wait until the snow stopped before moving on. We waited in our car for about an hour until the tow truck came. During that time there was a lot of tears and stress, but we realized we were going to be okay. And it was hard to stay upset when I realized how supportive the travelers on the Alaskan Highway are! Many cars stopped and asked if we needed help, and truckers who were familiar with the road let us know where they’d seen tow trucks pulling out other people and hoped that they’d be on their way to us soon. Our tow truck driver ended up being a total newbie and was very unsure how to pull us out since we were at a weird angle, but after a very nerve wracking hour we were back on the road as if nothing had happened!
I could barely think at this point and I was shaking and dizzy, so our first stop in town was Boston Pizza so that I could eat something. There was only one other couple in the restaurant and I overheard them talking about the drive up here, so I asked them a few questions about their drive. They were coming from the south as well and said that the road had been so crazy and they hadn’t seen it this way in a long time. It turned out that they lived in Vancouver in the winter but owned a campground in Dawson City, Alaska so they make this drive every April! They helped calm me down and talked us through a possible game plan for the rest of our trip. They suggested places to try to stay, but cautioned that if conditions were bad on the road that we should drive very slowly and just stop at a hotel whenever we needed to. We are learning that now! After eating we checked into the Super 8 where we had reservations last night (miracle #2 of the day – they let us just move our reservation over one day and we didn’t lose any money or have to pay for tonight!) and bought a calling card so that we could call our employer in Seward. They were understanding and said that we could take our time and that there was no rush for us to be there right away. Thank god! We also rescheduled a cabin reservation in Tok, AK and cancelled our reservations in Anchorage since I had no idea when we were getting there anymore. I emailed my mom and sister to tell them that our plans had changed, but didn’t mention the accident because I was afraid they would tell me to stop driving and come back home. And that was the worst part of the whole day – knowing that no matter what, we had to keep driving through the craziness. We could either give up and drive back through what we came through to go to Philly, or keep driving north for a few days through unknown road conditions and start our new life in Seward. If we came this far, we had to keep going! Even though I’m very scared for the roads tomorrow and I know we won’t be able to go as far as we would like, I’m just glad we are a bit closer to Seward. Please pray for no snow tomorrow and for safe road conditions! The snow has stopped falling so if the roads aren’t covered in new snow we will be heading out tomorrow, even though the scary bumpy icy parts will still be there (and will be there for a few more weeks!).
I never would have driven up here if I knew how bad the conditions were, but we’re over halfway there so we have to keep going. I will continue to update you as much as I can. Wish us luck!