DRIVING THE “ALCAN”
We’ve driven the Alaska-Canada Highway (ALCAN for short), round-trip, at least, half a dozen times. The beauty of this road through the wilderness is always awe-inspiring. The multiple wildlife sightings and points of interest along the way are highlights for Audrey and me as we migrate between Alaska and Florida each year. Yes, there’s always construction points or areas requiring a little more time and caution but this, for us, is a small price to pay for relatively easy access through such wild country.
The ALCAN was built in 1942 amidst growing fears of a Japanese attack on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The new 1,500 miles of road would serve as an important military supply route and line of defense in WWII. During construction, the Japanese seized two islands near the end of the Aleutian chain….fast-tracking completion of the road.
The men assigned this bold duty were nearly 11,000 U.S. Army engineers – a long way from home with a herculean task expected of them. Many had never been out of the Lower 48 states and were inexperienced with much of the equipment. I’m constantly amazed with how these military men dealt with the countless mud bogs and blasting through numerous mountains. Especially, with the equipment and gear available to them at the time.
One of my favorite stops along the highway is a visit to the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum in Fort Nelson, BC at Mile Marker 283 on the ALCAN. Here you can walk the grounds, see equipment and various vehicles used to carve this incredible road through impossible terrain and think about the men who operated them. Relentless mosquitos, extreme heat, thick dust and numbing cold in swamp-like conditions made this construction project a dreadful task, at best. Yet it was built and drivable in less than 8 months!
After so many years of business traveling, I have a tendency to rush from point A to point B. These days, I’m learning to enjoy the journey. When we reach Mile Marker 0 at Dawson Creek, BC going north or Mile Marker 1314 at Tok, AK going south, I always remind myself to slow down, look around and remember the men and our history from WWII. They truly are the greatest generation.