Eric's Drive from California to Alaska in October 1997

By Eric A. Hulteen
Edited on Tuesday 11 October 2011


I spent most of the month of October 1997 driving to and from Alaska. The trip was a good one; I enjoy driving, visiting dams, landscape, and being alone and this trip combined vast quantities of each. Since I returned I've thought about, and people have asked me to write about, my experiences on the trip. I've looked, but it seems that I don't have a monologue on the subject in me. So here (below), in the style of the Harper's Index, is a statistical summary of my trip.

Sometimes people write to me asking for advice about driving to Alaska. I'm happy to give it, but the first thing I always suggest is getting a copy of The Milepost -- self-described as the "legendary travel guide to the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing attractions and services along the Alaska Highway to and within Alaska."

I want to thank my brother Kurt and his wife Linda for giving me something to aim for in Alaska -- their house. Knowing that there was a warm, comfortable place to relax mid-journey made a big difference. And I want to thank them for the airplane trip they took me on to Mount McKinley and nearby glaciers; it was spectacular.

Eric's Alaska Index

Days spent driving to Eagle River, Alaska from Menlo Park, California -- 9.

States and provinces traversed --

Total number of days of trip -- 24.

Average number of miles driven per day of driving -- 425.

Average number of miles driven per day of trip -- 301.

Driving days lost to work on car -- 1.

Most common response to hearing that the car I was driving was a Lexus -- "What's that?"

Number of Lexus dealers between Vancouver, British Columbia and Anchorage, Alaska -- 0.

Color of car as trip began -- green.

Color of car upon arrival in Alaska -- brown as mud.

Number of dams visited -- 14

Largest number of dams visited in one day -- 8.

Driving speed on icy roads too slippery to stand up on -- 65 MPH.

Fastest driving speed on packed snow -- 85 MPH.

Number of speeding tickets received during trip -- 0.

Highest gasoline price paid -- 86.7 Canadian cents per liter (~$2.50US per gallon).

Gallons of windshield washer antifreeze used -- 3.

Number of automobile accidents -- 1.

Direction road took -- right.
Direction car went -- Lexus in the ditch

Thoughts as car went over side of road into ditch --
"What a way to start the day!" and
"It would be embarrassing and a pain in the ass if the air bag opened."

First thing mentioned by the tow-truck driver solicited to pull my car out of the ditch -- "I have mental problems."

Distance to closest alternate tow-truck driver -- 200 miles.

Number of times that the aforementioned tow-truck broke down on the way to pull my car out of the ditch -- 1.

Number of miles traveled on the day of the accident -- 349 miles.

Status of radar detectors in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory -- illegal.

How speeding tickets are dispensed -- "photo radar", a camera takes a picture of the speeding car's front license plate with the radar display of the speed superimposed.

What the police cite you for if you don't have a front license plate -- "Obstruction of justice."

Status of self-serve gasoline in Oregon -- illegal. I asked the person pumping the gas what the purpose of this law was. She said that it was to promote employment. I asked her if she liked her job. She said, "No."

Most interesting sign -- bear attack sign

Second most interesting sign -- poison gas sign

Number of rolls of film shot -- 13.

Longest drive in one day -- 666 miles.

Position of longest day's drive in sequence of trip -- last day.

Mileage on the car at the end of the trip -- 134,224 miles.

Mileage on that car in November 2004 -- 330,000 miles.

Miles driven -- 7,224 miles.

Most depressing -- the amount of money people spend (when they clearly don't have it to spend) on manifestations of their religion (to the exclusion, presumably, of enacting the purported principles of that religion).

My best advice on timing -- go before the snow starts. The snow is certainly beautiful, but if you have any hope or need to travel more than 100 miles per day it's difficult to drive in, and after the first 100 miles most of the fun has gone out of it.

Would I do it again -- yes. When do we leave?

Additional Pictures

The caribou seem to think that they own the road which, most of the time, they do.
They're in no hurry to get out of the way. So you might as well sit back and enjoy the show.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge (near Seattle, Washington) famous for having collapsed (on film).

Multnomah Falls in Oregon.

A beautiful example of oxbow lakes in Alaska.

The very beautiful Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River in Oregon is used to provide water for irrigation but is currently threatened with destruction. If you want to save the planet at the cost of the lives of the people living on it please set a good example and start by killing yourself.

Beavers build dams as well.

This animal circled the car while I took flash pictures. I'm told that it's a coyote; a beautiful animal.

They do know how to do snow-covered mountains in Alaska.

The California coast at Cresent City isn't ugly either.

The Canadian Rockies do their own version of rugged grandeur.