Saturday, July 28, 2007
TOK, ALASKA — Today we completed the last stretch of the Alaska Highway, returning to the town of Tok, through which everyone must pass who travels in or out of the state by land. With the last stretch from Delta Junction to Tok (rhymes with smoke), we can now officially state that we have covered the entire length of this famous highway.
It’s been a piecemeal effort, done from east to west mostly. We were at Mile Zero of this highway on June 22 at Dawson Creek, BC, and got to Mile 895 at Whitehorse, where we left it to do our Klondike trek up to Dawson City and back. When we got back to Whitehorse, we resumed the Alaska Highway headed for Tok, which is at Mile 1314. Then we left it again to do our loop around the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks. The last stretch was done from west (Delta Junction) to east (Tok) so it has taken us a while to cover all 1422 miles of it! We made it official by purchasing a certificate at the Visitor Center at Delta Junction, which states that we have "gone through the trials and tribulations to reach Mile 1422, the end of the Alaska Highway" on this day.
We left North Pole in good time this morning, and passed the first point of interest soon afterward — the Eielson Air Force Base is just east of the town, and we saw all kinds of military transport aircraft as well as fighter planes lined up near the hangars, set well back from the highway with the runways between us and them. There are two squadrons here and the base uses more than 60,000 square miles of airspace up here to train military personnel from all over the US.
The highway followed the contours of the Tanana River (remember, it doesn’t rhyme with banana), with its multiple braided streams flowing through a wide, gravelly river bed. When we had our tour of Denali National Park, we learned that these rivers never actually fill the entire riverbed with water from shore to shore, even in the wettest seasons.
For the most part, we covered flat land, although the Alaska mountain range was in view much of the time to the south, either as distant blue hills or, for a short time, close up with its rocky heights looming in front of us. There was quite a bit of tundra and swampy areas full of black spruce, but we also passed some lake areas that reminded us of northern Ontario. A handsome moose that trotted across the highway in front of us completed that picture nicely. Fortunately, an oncoming traveler flashed their headlights to warn us, so there were no untoward encounters.
Just before 11 o’clock, we arrived at Delta Junction, and as we rounded the curve and looked ahead, we could see crowds of people lining either side of the highway, many with lawn chairs and little kids in tow. I checked the Milepost book, and sure enough, it described the Deltana Fair that takes place in late July, with celebrations that included a horse show, concessions, pancake breakfast and an annual parade! We got there just in time! We found a place to pull over and joined the crowd.
We stood next to a mum and dad and their little boy, who was squirming with excitement as he pulled his little tote bag over his head. I wasn’t sure what the bag was for until his mother explained that he was waiting for the candy. Before long, the parade started up, just near the point where we had decided to turn off the highway a couple of blocks back.
There were fire trucks, horses, old tractors, Miss Alaska past and present, the Baptist Church, the youth court counselors, a motocross club, the local grocery store with a float decorated with fruits and vegetables, Smokey the Bear and the park rangers, Sparky the firedog, and a clutch of kids dressed as clowns with huge curly wigs and outlandish costumes.
Every vehicle and person that passed by tossed handfuls of candy to the kids by the road, so our little friend was scampering about picking them up and stuffing them into his tote bag. "It’s raining candy!" he shouted delightedly at one point, grabbing another Tootsie Roll that landed at his feet. Val and I helped gather some of this bounty for him, and soon he had to move on to a grocery sack his mother had brought along. He had a better haul than some kids get from a whole evening of trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en!
When the parade was over, there was still a lot of traffic to clear out (including a long line-up of hapless travelers who didn’t roll in to town at quite as strategic a moment as we did, and had to wait behind barricades till the parade finished). So we stayed put and had lunch in the trailer. By the time we were done, the road was clear again and we headed on our way, checking in for our Mile 1422 certificate before heading on to Tok.
After we got settled at our campground, we set out to get fuel and look for some moccasins for Val at a couple of local gift shops. The Athabascan crafters make lovely moose-hide slippers, but they are trimmed and/or lined with fur that makes them too warm for Val, so we didn’t find what we were looking for. We were rewarded, however, with a beautiful double rainbow in the eastern sky.