Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 13: Tok to Valdez

Posted January 25, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska

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 Shangri–la, Xanadu and Tír na nÓg.

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.

Even from the roadside you can identify layers of forest, lava domes, flow deposits, shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes, glacial ice and several different climates.

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.

valdez

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 Drive

The majority of the 77 mile, 3-hour stretch from Chicken to Tok is on the Taylor Highway.

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.

Tok

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.

tok

Then, we pulled into our friendly, clean and hospitable refuge, Tundra RV Park.

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.

Gulkana

This was one of our favorite fee-free overnight destinations.

gulkana

As guests of the Ahtna Athabaskan Villagers, we had a glorious Alaska experience on this Wild and Scenic River

gulkana
gulkana
gulkana

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.

gulkana

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

The largest National Park in America, Wrangell-St. Elias is 13.2 million acres with several visitor centers.

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.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Copper Center

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.

copper center
copper center
copper center
copper center
copper center

It began to rain heavily with patchy fog so we moved on to our first coastal village destination …

Valdez

valdez

We could barely see what we were missing.

In fair weather, the 117 mile drive through the Chugach Mountains on the Richardson Highway into Valdez must be spectacular. We hoped to see some of this area under clear skies on our way back.

The rain never let up but thanks to the LuLu Belle our Valdez experience at Bear Paw RV Park wasn’t a total loss.

lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle
lulu belle

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.

valdez
valdez
valdez

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.

valdez

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 🥂

valdez

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.

valdez

Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series



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.