OK, so we are not exactly at the official end of the Alaskan Highway (yet), but we have still completed enough of it that we are in Alaska. Happy Dance!
The road was really bad in spots as we approached the border crossing to re-enter the US. We drove over 100 miles of some of the worst road conditions I have driven on, between Destruction Bay and about 44 miles from Tok AK. Here is an excerpt from the Milepost (our ever present planning companion in the truck):
Ever since the Alaska Highway was first punched through the wilderness in 10 short months in 1942, this war-time road has been under reconstruction. There never seems to be a shortage of road to straighten, culverts to fix, bridges to replace, or surfaces to level out, especially along the stretch of bumpy road between the Donjek River and the Alaska border. From the 18th Co. Engineers’ pioneer road building in 1943, to the modern engineering techniques of Yukon’s Dept. of Highways, this section of the Alaska Highway has presented some unique challenges. In a 1943 report on the highway, Senior Highway Engineer R.E. Royall wrote: “By far the toughest job of grading was in building the 90 miles of road from the Donjek River in Yukon Territory to the border. Swamp ground underlain by permafrost, numerous creeks, lakes and rivers, and a thick insulating ground cover made this section difficult to penetrate for establishment of camps and conduct of work. Army forces pushed through the pioneer road late in 1942 as the ground was freezing and a limited number of vehicles went over the frozen surface during the winter. During the spring thaw (in 1943), this frozen road completely disappeared and there was no traffic whatever during the summer.” Indeed, this section of road did not open until October 1943. According to Public Works Yukon, much of the soil along the north Alaska Highway is of glacial origin and unsuitable for road embankments. “Anything that causes the permafrost to melt will cause the ice-rich soil to liquefy, and liquid soil has little strength and will settle or subside. Then if this soil refreezes during lower air temperatures, it will expand or heave.” This process wreaks havoc on the drivability of the road surface by creating undulations and cracking.
After departing Whitehorse yesterday, we stopped for a night in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone coverage and no internet (though they did have an actual wall-mounted pay phone). The campground, Discovery Yukon, had to produce their own electricity via diesel generator since there are no utilities to be had here. But it was still a nice stop for the night.
We are going to hang out here in Tok Alaska for a couple nights before heading on for an entire week of rest near Fairbanks. We will pass the official completion of the Alaska Highway on the way to Fairbanks on Tuesday.