January 16, 2011: Dawson Creek, BC

Woke up at 6am on the morning of Jan 16th and hit the road after a hot shower. We predicted this to be the longest day of driving while still in Canada (12+hrs). Our goal was to make Dawson Creek, BC (477 miles) by 5pm and push into Edmonton, AB (300 miles from Dawson Creek) sometime around 10pm. The temperatures had risen to -5 F with patches of blue skies and the road conditions were great.

Throughout the morning, we stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy the crisp Yukon air and local hospitality. Overall people were friendly, mellow, and completely uninterested in our reasons for driving the ALCAN.  Just outside Laird Hotspring, there is a challenging 70 mile course of road that snakes around Muncho Lake with steep banks and no highway guard railing.  We made a pit stop at The Northern Rockies Lodge in Muncho Lake, a super clean modern, comfy establishment which offered rooms at the same price as our beloved room without a lock in Laird Hot Springs!  Garry Doering had recommended this place as a possible layover and one that we will remember for next ALCAN adventure.   We did not have any trouble driving between Muncho Lake and Toad River however both of us are nursing pretty wicked coughs with congestion.  Dom has been doing most of driving as roads are pretty slick and tow trucks are few along the ALCAN.  
Shatomi took the wheel when we arrived at Ft. Nelson, BC.  After cruising for about a 1.5 hrs later, Shatomi inadvertently ran off the road just outside Sikanni Chief (160 miles to Dawson Creek, BC).  Note: Driving too close to the edge of the snowy roads has potential to suck vehicle into the snow bank.  Solution: Take your half of the road out of the middle when there is no traffic!  Shatomi did an excellent job keeping the Jeep under control as we skidded in to the embankment.  Both of us were a little rattled, now TOTALLY AWAKE but otherwise ok.   

After emerging from the snowbank, we instantly we focused our efforts toward digging out the Jeep, ensuring that we were off the road, and trying to signal other drivers. The Jeep clock showed 12:06 pm as we smashed into the deep snow and the passenger side front plastic wheel-well guard had been damaged.  The outside temperature was well below 0 F and the Jeep was buried in snow 2-3 feet deep.  Dom prepared for this possibility by bringing a winter snow shovel!
As we excavated the surrounding snow and prepared for a long couple hours getting the Jeep out of the ditch, a large tanker truck carrying oil pulled off the road.  Suddenly, out jumps an extremely friendly fellow with a French accent wearing heavy-duty insulated overalls. He had a tow line which we hooked to the Jeep’s rear undercarriage and to his truck’s front bumper.  The tanker truck’s Mack engine had more than enough horsepower to pull us out. Minutes later we were out of the ditch and safely back on the ALCAN driving surface!  Our Canadian friend was very matter-of-fact and good natured about the whole episode.  Dom gave him a can of salmon from Seward, AK in thanks and by 12:36 pm we were back on the road.  It was now Dom’s turn to drive.   Although it had only taken 30 minutes to deal with our roadside dilemma, we still needed to fix the damaged plastic wheel guard.  Pink Mountain, BC was about 20 minutes down the road and we found some small diameter rope to secure the damaged wheel guard.  Using the Leatherman tool we had in the Jeep, we were able to successfully lash the plastic wheel guard to the vehicle frame. 
     As we got closer Dawson Creek, BC (Mile 0 of the ALCAN) the weather started to get worse and eventually started snowing.  We were 100 miles from Dawson Creek when we saw the first multi-vehicle wreck.  3-4 inches of snow had accumulated on the road and driving conditions were near white out. 

As we slowly make our way, we noticed several dozen vehicles and large trucks strewn alongside the road. The flashing light of emergency personnel and flares helped to mark the road.  Just outside Fort St. John, BC, we were diverted off the ALCAN for 20 miles to drive around a large wreck.   We arrive in Dawson Creek, BC at 6pm.  In search of the historic ALCAN Highway Mile Zero sign, we drove the city with 20 inches of snow blanketing the streets. As we were about to give up and continue driving to Edmonton, AB, we saw it. The sign represented the first tangible accomplishment in our long journey.  We had finished the ALCAN Highway in approximately 50 hours and figured the worst of the driving was behind us.  

     Edmonton, AB was another 300 miles from Dawson Creek, BC. The locals estimated 8-10 hour drive under the current weather conditions.  As soon as we entered Alberta, there was a noticeable difference in the road conditions.  Extremely variable.  An additional 6-8 inches of light, dry snow (aka champagne snow) had covered the road.  We continued to pass cars and trucks that had lost control and were now off the road and abandoned.  Fewer cars were on the road at this time of night however the vehicle in front of you (especially big trucks) tended to kick up the champagne snow and create near white-out driving conditions.  It was like driving in a fog.  One moment you see the silvery aluminum outline of the truck trailer and the red glow of its tail lights and the next moment nothing but a white cloud.  Passing on the two-lane highway to Edmonton was tricky.  Dominick, the self-proclaimed “Best Driver in Canada” --- drove into the night with poise and confidence.  We were determined to make it to Edmonton and with great relief- reach the city around 1:30am Jan 17th.  Our host in Edmonton is Dave Swede, whom Dom connected with via couchsurf.org.  Dave is a wildlife biologist and a gracious host.  It was great to catch some quality sleep on a comfy couch after 18 hours driving on the road in January.

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