DRIVING THE “ALCAN”

DRIVING THE “ALCAN”

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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.

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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.

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One of the first camps along the ALCAN set up in the northern region of Alaska. Photo credit: US Library of Congress

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.

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A road crew of US Army engineers digging the road bed through dense, matted poplar. Photo credit: hamodia.com

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!

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Accidents were frequent. Photo credit: Rossi Films

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.

ZONK

LarryCsonkaALCAN

Visiting the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, ALCAN Hwy, Mile 283

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Showing 7 comments
  • John Tice
    Reply

    Larry,

    My dad was in Alaska from ’42 to the end of the war. He was the government liaison between the civilian contractors and the Army. I have some photos from ’42 if you are interested in seeing them.

    regards,

    John Tice

  • jeffrey sublett
    Reply

    I would love to make that drive sometime!

  • Sam Rowe
    Reply

    loved the pictures Larry, We don’t get that way quite as often as you do but its always a new adventure ! Thanks again and take good care 🙂

  • Gary
    Reply

    Zonk…really enjoy your posts. The ALCAN should be required driving for everyone, nature and history in one great road trip.

    FinsUp!

  • Patsy Smith
    Reply

    Your name was mentioned in Memories of St Augustiine so I looked you up. “Driving the Alcan” brought back memories. Dad packed the family in a 24 Air Stream trailer in WPB FL in 1963 and drove to Alaska. This 11 year old never forgot that trip! The dusty rock road pitted the front of the trailer and someone couldn’t see us in the dust, caught the trailer’s back number. Great encounter with Canandian Royal Police! Back then, there were few people in Alaska!

    Friends just got back from am Alaskan cruise and it sounds so touristy now. They were teachers in St Augustine and one of their fellow teachers now lives in Anchorage! I’ll never understand how a Floridian can stand 24 hour nights.

    Thanks for the memories.

  • Charlie Kreidler
    Reply

    Larry, can you recommend any places to fish for salmon in British Columbia? Looking for a fishing lodge for a group of 6 guys. We went to the lodge in Larson Bay a few years ago after seeing your show, and it was great.

    Thanks!
    Charlie Kreidler
    Edisto Island, SC

  • Jackie
    Reply

    Dear Mr. Csonka,
    We are so looking forward to seeing you tomorrow in Chicago at the fanatics autograph session! Jackie can’t wait to meet you as she has been a Dolphins fan her whole
    Life. If there is time we brought some pictures from fishing in Canada last year that we thought you might enjoy seeing.
    Sincerely,
    Alaine and Jackie

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