snow

Cold toes on the Alaska Highway

With so long on the road now, you’d think that we might have exhausted most of the ups and downs of the hitchhiking adventure. Not so. This week, we’ve managed to: smash our longest-distance-travelled-in-one-week record (previously set in Brazil in July); make storming progress north out of Vancouver; fit in a 900 km round trip after deciding that our original route wasn’t the best one (more on that later); get stuck in a snow drift and have to be pulled out by a farmer (seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up); and experience the kindness of strangers time and again as various people have put us up and helped us out. Long sentence? Long week.

Monday began to the rhythm of Jo’s thumping heart, as we once again braced ourselves for conflict with laws apparently prohibiting hitchhiking. With three patrol cars passing us in 15 minutes without a hint of interest, however, it seemed they weren’t too bothered by our endeavours, and soon we were sailing out of our final big city. We had decided that our target for the day was Whistler, a famous mountain just over 100 km away; instead we leapt forward nearly 800 km to Prince George, the “Northern Capital of British Columbia”. One of our drivers told us that travelling north would take us on a fast-track through the seasons, and so it was – from autumn one morning to winter the next.

Adding a layer as we head away from Vancover.

Monday: Adding a layer as we waited for a ride just north of Whistler.

Snow on the ground and -7 in the air.

Tuesday: Snow on the ground and -7 in the air.

When chatting to our drivers, we often ask for advice on the road ahead – what it’s going to be like, which route to take and so on. On Tuesday morning, we had two choices – head west on the 16 or north on the 97, both of which eventually join up. We’d been told that Route 16 was slightly shorter and more scenic, so that seemed to be the thing to do. More good progress was made, including our first truck ride since Mexico with Gary, and we were  greeted by an exciting sight when he dropped us off on Wednesday morning at the foot of Highway 37. Next stop Alaska, we thought.

Alaska: on the map.

Alaska: on the map. (Sadly. aiming for Hyder Alaska would have felt like cheating as it isn’t in the main part of Alaska, otherwise we’d be on a flight home by now.)

However, we soon got a sense that we weren’t in the right place. Even though each of the few truckers we spoke to were heading to Alaska (one ride away!!), they weren’t able to take us because of poor road conditions and our not being insured; all car drivers that passed told us they were going only very short distances and suggested we were better off where we were. And then there were the various warnings we received about our safety on a road infamous for a spate of disappearing female hitchhikers. To locals the 16 is The Highway of Tears. When trucker Rosco offered us a ride all the way back to Prince George, we heaved a collective sigh and accepted.

At least the pretty scenery could cheer us up a bit.

At least the pretty scenery cheered us up a bit.

No time for sulking; Thursday morning came, we found the 97 and turned our back on our two-day detour. In so doing, we met colourful character Anthony, 24, with whom we spent most of the day, covering another several hundred kilometres. On our arrival into Dawson Creek, Mile ‘0’ on the Alaska Highway, Anthony decided to take us off-roading to demonstrate his 4×4 capabilities. Thank you to Farmer Joe for demonstrating his capabilities for extracting us.

4x4 x 2 = the formula for getting unstuck from this particular snowdrift.

4×4 x 2 = the formula for getting unstuck from this particular snowdrift.

On Friday, our pattern of long-distance days was dented slightly when by lunchtime we had travelled just 100 km and there remained until sun-down – which, to be fair, is fairly early these days, but time enough to lose all feeling in our feet. The day took another turn for the worse when we discovered the nearby inn had no rooms available, but then neighbours Colleen and John took us in, ran us a hot bubble bath and regaled us with stories of hunting wild animals.

Colleen, John and moose.

Colleen, John and Mr. Moose.

Finally, as if this week hadn’t given us enough already, a fantastically unlikely series of events led to the lovely Leona and Steve taking us from that very same inn all the way up to their house in Fort Nelson, putting us up for the rest of the weekend and furnishing us with snow boots to keep our toes all snuggly until we get on that flight. 1300 kilometres to go!

Steve and Leona - what wonderful company to finish the week with.

Steve and Leona – what wonderful company to finish the week with.

Total number of lifts: 390
Week Thirty-Five distance travelled: 1666 miles/ 2681 km
Total distance travelled: 24,647 miles / 39,665 km

Enlarge the map to see the extent of our detour!

Enlarge the map to see the extent of our detour!

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