Posted January 25, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
Chapter 13 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.
“It’s from an Aleut word, Alyeska. It means ‘that which the sea breaks against,’ and I love that.”
Alaska, land of myth and mystery.
It’s Through the Looking Glass …
Where The Crawdads Sing,
The Fortress of Solitude,
and Beyond The Wall.
Before the cruise ships found it, getting to Alaska was a heroes journey of purpose and destiny – a trek that required talent, experience and superior genes. Even Today, over-landing there and back is like dancing on stairs.
If you don’t pay the AlCan tax (losing an axel or windshield, your pride or your stride) then you are one lucky duck.
Romanticize Alaska and she will break your heart. Idealize her and she will out you as a fool.
Alaska doesn’t play truth-or-dare, because that would imply that your pitiful ego is worth her time.
Truth is, Alaska’d just as soon kill ya as look at ya. She’s crazy-beautiful, but make no mistake, engagement – on her terms – is undeniably coherent, logical and uncomplicated. “Look at me” she says, “Hear me out.”
At first glance, nothing’s there. That’s because there’s so much there, there. Our perception needed time to acclimate.
Alaska is all about layers piled upon layers. Once you begin to see them, it’s like having eyes for the first time.
In the beginning, the free-ranging sun caught us off guard as it moved across the tundra flanked by a Bob Fosse chorus line of long-legged stratus clouds. The show, literally, never stopped because, here, Darkness has been conquered.
Alaska’s layers extend into the culture.
We marveled that for thousands of years Alaskans have engineered a fragile truce with this volatile place.
Against all odds, Alaskans joyfully weave a proud legacy into the elements,
charm the land
and reap reward.
We may call it survival, but Alaskans call it joy.
Alaska is layers of soul, mystery and sorrow,
heroism, ambition and long-lost dreams.
The vastness overwhelms. Alaska is bigger than we envisioned. Even while outfitted with GPS and maps, this was a labyrinthine journey.
The majority of the 77 mile, 3-hour stretch from Chicken to Tok is on the Taylor Highway.
A combination of pavement and graveled dirt, the 64 miles to the Alaska Highway junction was in slightly better condition than the Top of the World Highway.
Still, legions of pot holes forced us to the wrong side,
and the snow heaves prompted frequent stops to consider our options.
On an Alaska roundtrip, Tok is the only village overlanders will see twice: once upon arrival and again, on the way out. Remote, quiet, and low key, the residents here live the subsistence lifestyle, hunting moose, bear, rabbit grouse, and ptarmigan.
First, we washed the rig.
Then, we pulled into our friendly, clean and hospitable refuge, Tundra RV Park.
After settling in for a three-night break from the road, we made time for Fast Eddy’s.
Later, we stopped in for a nightcap at The Tundra Bar. How lucky can you get?! Earl, the honorary Mayor of Tok, treated us to a complimentary moose call.
This was one of our favorite fee-free overnight destinations.
We arrived early to ensure a spot on the shore of Gulkana River at the site of Old Gulkana Village in the Copper River Basin.
Between Tok and Gulkana we could have enjoyed the entire season, but we had a five-day reservation on Prince William Sound. So, the next morning we had to pull ourselves away and move on to …
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Due to poor road conditions the rangers didn’t recommend driving into the park. Heavy rain was projected for the next few days, so we attended a ranger talk and watched Crown of The Continent, a film about the park. Then, we took a stroll around the grounds and explored the museum.
We stopped at Copper Center intending to have lunch at the Old Town Copper Center Inn and Restaurant. But, with the virus on the loose again and no open-air dining option, we skipped lunch and took a quick tour of the museum which had recently opened after a two-year closure.
It began to rain heavily with patchy fog so we moved on to our first coastal village destination …
We could barely see what we were missing.
Jim had a fascinating (though wet and miserably cold) day on the water.
During a brief break in the rain we took a self-guided walking tour around the village.
Soggy, cold and exhausted from days of mud, fog and travel-fatigue, we drove over to the west side of the bay to fetch dinner like pros.
Jim seasoned our locally sourced salmon with some California sunshine and we closed our eyes and thought of a warm, dry southwest day. The magic worked!
What a happy surprise! Our adventurous San Diego friends, Ben and Ruth, from An American Stream happened to see us drive by. Later, we met up on a heated patio to exchange Alaska stories over cocktails and watch the news about the historic heat wave of 2022.
Here’s to roughing it in The Great North in the good ol’ summertime 🥂
Alaska is from an Aleut word, Alyeska (al-lee-YES-ka) which means, “that which the sea breaks against.” Those words attend to a bundle of conflicted feelings and impressions I gathered about Alaska: Futility and Bliss, Expanse and Limitations and, as Ben puts it, “the Agony and the Ecstasy.”
Alyeska also describes that electric thrill when some indescribable beauty so arrests my heart’s imagination that it ups and tries to muscle past my fear and bone, determined to press on and go before me – lashing against my chest as if it can fly, go aloft, take wing.
Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series
- Chapter 1 – San Diego to Malibu
- Chapter 2 – Malibu to Morro Bay
- Chapter 3 – Morro Bay to Santa Cruz
- Chapter 4 – Santa Cruz to San Francisco
- Chapter 5 – San Francisco to Eureka
- Chapter 6 – The Oregon Coast
- Chapter 7 – The Strait of Juan de Fuca
- Chapter 8 – Victoria, British Columbia
- Chapter 9 – Victoria to Mackenzie
- Chapter 10 – The Alaska Highway
- Chapter 11 – Yukon
- Chapter 12 – Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska
- Chapter 13 – Tok to Valdez
- Chapter 14 – Glacier View to Anchorage – coming soon!
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.