Ah, the privilege of working in beautiful locations on opposite ends of the spectrum, and country! It’s just over 5,000 miles to drive a straight run from Islamorada, Florida to Denali National Park, Alaska. Then add in some side adventures, and a lay-over in Illinois, and our time and distance really add up.
I know many people have been experiencing a limbo of some kind during this pandemic: When will I go back to work? Will I have a job? Do I have income to pay bills? Et cetera. Though we often have a limbo between seasons, we were definitely in this new, unfamiliar boat with everyone else.
We arrived in Illinois at the beginning of May from our spring job at Sea Base with 3 concepts of future work:
Plan A: drive to Alaska to work at Denali Backcountry Lodge for the summer
Plan B: return to Sea Base when they open for the summer season
Plan C: stay in Illinois for the foreseeable future, garden, work odd jobs, and wait it out until tourism is happening again (our preferred industry of work)
Originally, we planned to leave Sea Base at the end of April, swing through Illinois, switch our scuba gear for hiking gear, and continue on our drive. So the majority of our Alaska gear was already gathered in February because we thought we’d have about a 2 day turnaround window.
Well, > COVID <
Our Alaska start date was pushed back two weeks. No problem, this gave us time to settle into our Illinois abode a bit better.
Then travel restrictions and quarantine regulations in Alaska made it look certain there wouldn’t be a travel season this year. So we unpacked and fully set up new gear closet! We began making mental plans of how to execute a garden this late in the growing season. (Straw bale gardens were our go to!)
Then official word from up north — start date: May 30th! Pack the bags! Fuel the car! It’s happening!
Next day: Alaska governor extends mandatory quarantine for all people arriving to Alaska until June 2nd. Crap. Regroup & wait for a decision….
New start date: June 3rd! Alright — let’s go! For realz this time.
(We understand this is a very fluid concept, and everyone is doing their best to make the best decisions for their states. The limbo and back-and-forth is no one’s fault. I’m not complaining, just showing an example of the life we live. We’re just riding the roller coaster along with everyone else, except, fortunately, the only people we have to make decisions for is ourselves, not a whole state or country, *whew*!)
We allowed for 8-9 day of travel, so we wouldn’t have to drive long hours every day and we could stop to enjoy the scenery along the way. Since we knew most things are closed, and our extra travel should be limited, we opted out of the scenic route of Jasper & Banff National Parks in Alberta, and took the more direct route through Saskatchewan.
Under normal circumstances, we would have loved to have stayed in Minneapolis with my cousins & aunt, but between the pandemic and first few days of the George Floyd protests, we decided better to continue to a hotel mid-way through Minnesota. Our drive through the northern Midwest of the US was mild & pretty, as we discussed how many of the fields looked planted versus a normal year.
We passed through a region in North Dakota where the local high school has an annual “Rock Day” for seniors to rock their class number on the side of the local hillsides, which they maintain and repaint on their reunion year. A very bizarre thing to see the hillsides numbered, like a bombing course or something. The class years research made a lot more sense. Tradition since 1945!
The tan ground & blue skies of North Dakota continued endlessly as we cruised along empty two-lane highways. The song “Fly-Over States” played in my head on repeat. I learned about the county in North Dakota that practices “weather modification” techniques, to try to mitigate hail damage and alter rain patterns. Quite an interesting concept to Google if you have a few minutes while pooping one day (after you finish reading this on your poop break, of course).
Our cross into Canada was through the very small town of Portal, with major highlights of: the duty free store and a closed cafe. The border station is under loads of construction, taking advantage of minimized traffic during the travel restriction, and working on 4 of the 5 lanes. We pulled into the only open lane, and were greeted with a French & English welcome.
After about a 10 minute conversation and some paperwork, we were through! Easy breezy! Since we had a specific date to be in Alaska, he knew we wouldn’t be lollygagging around in Canada, spreading disease and wreaking havoc. The construction continued for many, many miles (now kilometres) past the check point. Other than having to calculate the new distance and speed signs and price conversion, it felt like home.
As this point in time, we realized we’d flown through the US quite quickly, as we didn’t want to get to Alaska before the mandatory quarantine ended on June 2nd. We opted for shorter driving days of about 6 – 8 hours. That way we wouldn’t be in the car for long hours on end and we wouldn’t get to Alaska early. Our first few nights in Saskatchewan (I can spell that without looking now, ha!) were spent in hotels, as there are literally no trees, let alone forests, to camp near. We would literally be stealth camping on someone’s farm, and with very minimal “night cover”, we opted out of the effort it’d take to camp, and utilized the hotels option.
Predictably, the hotels were quite empty, and many offered a ‘bag breakfast’ in lieu of the continental breakfast amidst the pandemic. We did have to try Canadian McDonald’s [see above] and Canadian Wendy’s [see below – poutine!].
The tan ground & blue skies landscape didn’t change a bit after the border crossing. While Saskatchewan is an extension of North Dakota in regards to landscape, Alberta would be equivalent to western Colorado and western Montana, as it starts to become forested and mountainous. Our northern route through Alberta to the Alaska Highway was beautiful & peaceful. We visited the giant beaver in Beaverlodge, Alberta. We also had a mandatory stop at the “Greatest Outdoor Store in the World (….in DeBolt for sure!)”, where Steve was able to get some Canadian perspective on gun policies & laws.
Western Alberta quickly gave way to British Columbia where we hit our next big milestone: Dawson Creek – the beginning of the World-Famous Alaska Highway! (Not to be confused with that 90s moody teenager show – way cooler than that)
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will literally just be a blog post full of wildlife photos from the actual camera! You know, the things people really want to see – fuzzy, cuddly, [untouchable] animals of the north! Some highlights to look forward to: Stu, the 3-legged bear; Dagwood, the blonde porcupine; and Wilbur, the red fox with a pet glove.
Also included: a travel curveball from the Yukon & Alaskan governments! O.o
>>3500 miles down, 1500 miles to go! What could happen now….? <<
2 thoughts on “5,000 miles from the Keys to Denali”
Happy to read your post. Looking forward to my Alaska adventure with Steve n you. I love all our trips you have shared with me so far. They never disappoint – be safe- have fun – take lots of pictures!! Love ya , Aunt Re
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What a time to be traveling! Looking forward to AK photos!
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