Day 1, October 11, 1997: Anchorage to Tok, AK
Psychologists rate moving as one of the more stressful events in most lives. If so, my move was par for the course. The moving crew showed up before I was ready for them on Friday, took items for shipping that should have been left, left items that should have been shipped and disappeared as quickly as they arrived. As a result I no longer had my blazer, slacks, and tie for the trip. I still had a dishwasher full of dishes. A trip to the post office at 6AM on Saturday will take care of the latter. The former will have to take care of itself.
This morning I awoke at 4:30 after a restless night on the sole remaining item of furniture in the house—the ratty old couch in the basement. My neighbors wanted it but relented and let me sleep on it for that last night. Breakfast was catch-as-catch-can from the nearly empty refrigerator. Leftover cherry cheesecake from my going-away dinner the night before wasn't too bad at 5:00AM. I packed my Miata with all of the clothes that the movers had spared, discovering once again that traveling light is a necessity in a car this small. Eventually everything was stuffed into place but the car now looked as though it belonged to Okies fleeing the dustbowl. I briefly considered strapping some furniture to the roof to complete the effect but realized that I had no furniture left after hauling the couch across the street.
On the way out of town I stopped in Eagle River to say goodbye to a good friend that had just returned from vacation the day before. Before I left, she managed to force a bag of food on me for the trip. Just what I needed there: more stuff to find a place for but she meant well and seemed really sad to see me going.
Hit the road at last at 8:30 after a tearful farewell. The weather is brutally cold for this time of year and the wind is whipping. The weather report shows that there has been snow down the Alaska Highway and makes it certain that if I don't get out now then driving will surely be impossible in a week (at least in a Miata with a hands breadth of ground clearance and twitchy handling in bad traction). A look at the Matanuska River as I head north shows that there is slushy ice floating by and confirms by astute observation
The road is in good shape for the first hundred miles or so. It slowly degrades becoming rather questionable in spots. There are gravel stretches and construction zones - one of them 9 miles long. Some sections suffer from frost heaves. For those of you unfamiliar with the treat, they are the result of freezing water beneath the pavement. At best they add a bit of rolling motion and thumping. At worst they resemble an amusement park thrill ride in which patrons launch their vehicles into zero-gee arcs and land with bone-crunching violence. I also observed an entirely new form of pavement misbehavior today in which the left and right sides of the road agree to a parting of the ways leaving a meandering fissure down the travel lane. In some cases road crews had performed a half-hearted patching but it seldom helped as the two sides invariably chose to travel at a different height.
Eventually a mountain crossing had to be made. There was light fresh snow on stretches of road that were shaded. Other areas that had been warmed by the sun were either wet or icy. Amazingly the Miata handled it well enough giving me a bit more confidence in its winter handling (at least when abrupt changes of speed and direction can be avoided).
Arrived in Tok at 4:30PM not too much the worse for wear beyond some icing around the wheel wells. I enjoyed a light supper at a picturesque establishment called "Fast Eddie's". Not that bad despite the name and their beer was fresh...
The attached picture shows a stretch of road with the mountains of the Wrangell-St. Elias group in the distance.
Tomorrow we press on to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory as the next leg of our 12,000 mile solo tour driving on the edge of the US continues.