Juneau to San Jose
June 11, 2017
Miles Driven: 2 (+1,607 miles in the air)
Sunrise (Juneau): 3:52am / Sunset (San Jose): 8:28pm
Latitude: 58.30N to 37.33N
National Parks Visited: 0
Wacky Roadside Attractions: 0
I’m home now, having taken two 2-hour flights down from Juneau connecting through Seattle. What a marvelous adventure. I admit, a road trip to Alaska was not on my immediate road trip bucket list, nevertheless, since the opportunity came up, I’m quite happy to have snatched it. Many may ask, why drive to Alaska? Why not just take a cruise? Or fly to Anchorage and take a train to Fairbanks, seeing Denali along the way?
My answer is this: Alaskans would likely laugh at you if you said you’d experienced Alaska and then regaled them with tales of cruise ship day-trips to coastal sites or previews of wilderness from the safety of tour buses, trains or rental cars between Alaska’s two mainland cities. Sure you’d have seen some of what the state has to offer, but you’d have missed the point. Alaska isn’t Denali. It isn’t the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s not the bald eagle or the grizzly, moose or porcupine. It’s not the midnight sun or aurora borealis. It’s vastness, wilderness untapped, untamed. It is the final frontier of America. If you witnessed it from the safety of plane rides and narrated tours, you’ve missed that point.
I’m sure there are other places in the world where such isolation and an endless horizon exist, places like Antarctica, Siberia, the plains of Africa or the South American rainforests. For me, however, as traveled as I am, I’d not yet experienced any such place. And I would not hesitate to say that for most Americans, they’ve not really experienced it either.
Think of it like this: The fastest route from Bellingham, WA to Fairbanks, AK is 2,059 miles driving. Oh, don’t forget you’ll need a passport too. Besides Vancouver, which you’ll immediately pass by once you’ve crossed the Canadian border, you’ll only come across one sizable population along the road. Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, has 23,000 people. Even Fairbanks, your destination, has only 32,000. That’s 1 small city every 1,000 miles. If you’re going to Anchorage, the distance is 2,175 miles and you won’t pass through Fairbanks. So, it’s the same scenario.
Now, I dare you to pick a spot in the contiguous states, draw a 1,000 mile radius and not hit multiple cities bigger than 20,000 people. Next, try scouting a 1,000-mile route along a major highway out of your hometown before you come to another populated place. Even the “Loneliest Road in America,” U.S. Route 50 between Carson City, NV and Salt Lake City, UT, is only 546 miles. Oh, so you’ll just fly instead, you say. From Seattle, Fairbanks is 5 ½ hours away by air, 5 ¼ if you are flying to Anchorage. You can fly from San Francisco to New York or LA to Honolulu in that time. Plus, unless you live in Seattle, all the way in the Pacific Northwest, that flight won’t be non-stop either.
My point here is simply to impress upon you what I mean when I say the experience was one of jaw-dropping awe at the scope of wilderness. Sure, there are little kitschy spots like other places in the U.S. Sure, battered 2-lane highways connect parts of the state (though not nearly all). Sure, people live in Alaska. Many have internet. But, nearly all hunt, fish and pick buckets of wild berries. Don’t laugh, the latter can actually be dangerous as you have to range over hill and dale, through tundra, contending with bears. Think of it like a sport. And they can survive 40-below temperatures in winters with little to no light for months on end without having to call for help. Alaska is impressive on a scale incomprehensible. In America, this is our final frontier, one of nature’s last true preserves on Earth. Are you bold enough to go?
Until my next road trip,
I give a great thanks to Nicole for taking me along on this fantastic journey and wish her luck in Alaska!