6 Things I Learned Driving the Alaska Highway

In July and August I was fortunate enough to drive the Alaska Highway to and from Alaska. Road trips are something I love. There’s nothing like driving down the open road, dodging obstacles and seeing the scenery change over the course of 1,382 miles plus getting to the highway via Canada’s road systems. There’s a lot of time to contemplate different things between audiobooks: relationships, work, outlooks on life, et cetera.

Here are 6 things I learned on what seemed like an endless drive on the Alaska Highway:

Justin Fricke The Weekend Warrior driving the Alaska Highway

Embrace the Potholes and Rough Roads

The frigid winter takes its toll on the highway. As you drive further north you see the road take on various shapes. Potholes litter the road, ice heaves threaten to launch your car into the air as if you hit the wrong button in Inspector Gadget’s car, and the change between pavement and gravel will give your back an adjustment without a visit to the chiropractor. All that being said, it’s fun. The Alaska Highway wouldn’t be the Alaska Highway without all these challenges. It’d be just another highway.

There’s this quote from Stephen Colbert in a GQ interview that’s stuck with me the past couple of years.

“’What punishments of God are not gifts?’ So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

All the rough spots in the road teach you to embrace and be grateful for them all. They’re a total inconvenience and make the ride a little rough, but it’s the rough ride that makes the smooth road up ahead that much more enjoyable.

Go at Your Own Speed

A lady at the Visit Center in Watson Lake in Canada’s Yukon Territory told me I was at least a 4 day’s drive from the nearest, legitimate, town in Alaska. I was only 3 days into the long drive and was ready to be in Alaska. It only took another 2 days.

Just because someone did something faster or slower makes you or them no less or more. We were all created differently and go at different speeds. It makes no sense to make comparisons with others, only yourself. Go at your own speed; and you get decide how heavy your foot weighs down on the gas pedal.

Enjoy the In-Between Moments

In his book The In-Between Jeff Goins breaks down that we define life by moments. Big moments are what we remember, but most of our life is made of little tiny moments. And when we get caught up waiting and looking ahead to the next big thing, we take for granted to little things that give life its flavor.

While Alaska or somewhere in Canada might be the end goal, there’s so much more to love and experience on the Alaska Highway. I don’t many places where you’ll willingly stop to get mediocre ice cream in a picturesque setting, skate on asphalt that’s covered by snow and ice most of the year, see 7 black bears along the highway within an hour, take pictures of 3 bison at sunset and then get surrounded by a herd of 50 bison 2 miles down the road, or take a swim in a turquoise lake to stretch out your legs.

Take Your Eyes Off the Road

Someone gave me a map of all the campsites along the Alaska Highway. They all looked great and well maintained, but that meant I had to pay to sleep in my van on a patch of dirt for the night.

A friend of mine told me to keep an eye out for free sites near bridges and river banks. Sure enough, some of my favorite spots to call home for the night have been on the Alaska Highway. They weren’t always easy to find, but they required me to look a little off to the side of the road to find these hidden gems. Opportunity won’t always present itself in the middle of the road. Sometimes you might find them hiding off the side of the road. Unless it’s a bison crossing the road.

Heed the Advice of Others that Have Gone Before You

The drive gets boring and I listened to the Ask Gary Vee audiobook. It’s an awesome listen and not just for entrepreneurs. But in the book, Gary was asked a question about who to listen to for business advice and if info programs that are sold are even worth buying. His response was incredible.

Listen to people who have done and been successful at what they’re talking about. Heeding the marketing advice of someone that’s never led a marketing campaign or the leadership advice of someone who’s never owned a business, let alone been in a leadership or even a managerial role, is good time wasted. So many people are willing to lend you their advice because they want to feel important. That advice is rubbish unless they’ve actually done it. Same goes for people telling you how rough and terrible the Alaska Highway is, only because that’s what their friends have said.

Enjoy the Ride

I can’t describe what makes 1,000 miles of driving over a highway that’s frozen most of the year so great. But if you love road trips like I do, this one that has to be on the top of your list. All the naysayers are going to say it sucks and that the road’s too rough and you need to carry extra fuel with you. Don’t listen to them. Use your common sense and enjoy the ride.

Don’t Drive the Alaska Highway

“You’re funny, sir.” 

This time I wasn’t thrilled to hear someone telling me I’m funny. The lady at the Watson Lake Visitor Center in Canada’s Yukon Territory wasn’t laughing, didn’t show a smile, not even a smirk.Justin Fricke on an unpaved section of the Alaska highway

I had been driving from Squamish in British Columbia Canada up to Fairbanks Alaska with my brother. This was day three of driving and by this point I was ready to be in Fairbanks and exploring Alaska. I had asked how much longer it’d take us to get to Fairbanks, I thought it’d take 10 or 11 hours. The lady at the visitor center, on the other hand, thought I was kidding and informed me that between swerving around potholes and slowing down for ice heaves, we also had to deal with road construction delays. And it’d realistically take another 20 hours.

She said it all in a tone like “You’re crazy for driving the Alaska Highway.” That’s not the first time I heard something like that. For about a year when I’d tell someone I’d be going to Alaska this year and driving the Alaska Highway it was always met with “I can’t believe you’re doing that!” and “How much spare gas are you taking?” and “I know some who did that a year or two ago. Had to replace all their tires, that road’s terrible!”

All those reactions from people made me wonder if Alaska was even feasible. That is, until Adam and I met Dennis in Texas this past February. Dennis is a retired man who drives an older Sprinter Van than ours around the country with his cat, Cathy, and rocks a license plate from South Dakota that reads U 4 JESUS. When we were done comparing build out notes, I asked him if he’d ever been to Alaska.

“Sure have, I love Alaska!” he said.

“And did you drive the Alaska Highway?” He looked at me with a little grin and said what I’d been waiting to hear.

“The Alaska Highway ain’t shit! Not since they paved the damn thing.”

The Alaska Highway is a highway like no other. It’s long days of dodging pot holes and getting a crash course in how to drive over something you never knew existed until a few hours beforehand, like an ice heave. But the reward for keeping your car on the road are beautiful sights, stopping to take pictures of bison, skating small bits of the deserted highway, listening to Harry Potter books on tape, and having conversations with your brother that you haven’t had in a long time.

The next day we rolled into Fairbanks. It didn’t take 20 hours, it only took 10 hours from Watson Lake. To be honest, it wasn’t really that bad at all.

We never came close to running out of gas. Gas didn’t come anywhere close to costing $6+/gallon. The drive wasn’t terribly boring and we didn’t die! It was fun.

Looking back on it all, I find it kind of funny that I worried about driving the Alaska Highway based on what others told me. All of whom had never driven the Alaska Highway themselves.

Take advice from someone who’s actually driven the Alaska Highway. Preferably more than once. If you’ve ever thought about driving to Alaska, go drive the Alaska Highway. That’s what Dennis told me in Texas and I’m glad I listened to him.