Exploring Alaska in the "Off" Season: Arctic Roadtrip
The assignment sounded easy enough: fly into Fairbanks, Alaska and jump on with the Alcan 5000 Rally as they drove up to the Arctic Circle and then down to the end in Anchorage. Expecting cold, snow and a little adventure, I arrived in Fairbanks with time to spare before the Alcan crews got in to town.
I caught wind that the World Ice Art Championships were in progress nearby and it wasn’t long before I was standing before the most impressive displays of art I’ve ever seen.
Starting 60 hours earlier, the artists began with a 5’x8’x3’ block of ice; after using chainsaws and a slew of other tools they'd transformed their canvases into stunning creations.
Being careful not to linger around too long, the next day would be an early one as we headed north to the infamous Dalton Highway towards the Arctic Circle.
The Alcan 5000 Rally is really one part traditional “rally” with the majority being an adventure trip trekking through some of the most stunning and less-traveled roads going from Seattle through Canada and onward to Alaska. The Arctic Circle was an optional 600-mile round trip day drive leaving Fairbanks at 7am and returning that night.
Our small crew consisted of an FJ Cruiser and Mel Wade with his Evo Jeep JK. The Dalton Highway, or "Haul Road" as known by the locals, follows the Alaskan Pipeline North from outside Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. Once we hit the Dalton, the road conditions quickly deteriorated to a winding single lane snow/ice covered road. Those of you familiar with FJ Cruisers, backseats and winding roads can tell you how my morning went. Other than losing a better half of my breakfast oatmeal, we carried on without a worry knowing that our Nitto Exo Grapplers would be right at home in these conditions.
A few hours later and we crossed the 66 degree north latitude... that's the Arctic Circle! Continuing north into Coldfoot, it was reassuring that we carried an extra five gallons of fuel as we barely made it into the gas station located there. These are parts where you’ve got to plan on where to fuel up, warm up and grab some grub – it’s not like driving cross-country on the I-40!
Most of the teams made this the end point, grabbing some lunch, refueling and heading back to Fairbanks before dark. We pressed onward further north towards the Brookes Mountain Range, getting there just before sundown.
I was glad once we were able to convince Mel that continuing another couple hundred miles all the way to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean wasn’t a good idea. As it was, by the time we drove back through the dark into Fairbanks it was a 19-hour day on ice roads. Getting to see the Alaska Pipeline and reaching the Arctic Circle felt like worthwhile accomplishments though!
Alcan 5000’s final day was the drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage and included the final TSD stage. Using the Time-Speed-Distance approach allows for competition without much of the risks involved in high speed rallies. It doesn’t however come without risk—nor does any driving up in these parts for that matter. A little slide off the road was no task the Evo JK couldn’t handle.
Aside from the TSD stage, this drive took us through Denali National Park. Seeing North America’s tallest peak is worth the drive itself.
The Alcan 5000 Rally culminated with an awards banquet by recognizing the points winners for a variety of stages. More than awards though, the Alcan 5000 is about joining other people who love the adventures that cars can transport us to.
As an added bonus, the next morning was the start of the 44th Annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. While not automotive, the passion and size of the crews and chase trucks for this event reminded me of Baja or Dakar!
The town was packed with people crowding around the track running straight through downtown Anchorage. The dogs didn't even seem to notice the crowds. Once hooked up to the sled, they were in game-mode. All they wanted was to do one thing—to RUN!
While I hadn’t made the entire 5,000+ mile journey with the Alcan Rally, I felt like I had fit in 5,000 miles worth of adventure! Experience more of the Arctic adventure in the gallery below.