Last updated on November 14th, 2021
In early 2018, I bought a Ford Transit Connect minivan with dreams of taking some epic road trips. I soon equipped it with a comfy memory foam bed and started setting out on road trips of increasing length – once driving from Seattle to Minnesota, and another trip to the California desert. But in summer 2019, I took my longest trip yet: Over eight weeks driving from Seattle to Alaska to the Arctic Ocean and back, covering 10,700 miles (2,000 of those on gravel roads)! Summer 2019 was a challenging time in Alaska and Yukon, with major forest fires, heavy smoke, downpours, and resulting mudslides. However, traveling with a flexible schedule allowed me to avoid the worst of it.
Most villages in Alaska are accessible by dead-end road, from Hyder to Haines to Homer – and I traveled to many of them. While wildlife isn’t often seen on land, you can take a cruise out of Valdez or Seward to spot marine mammals and birds. The wildlife you do see on land is spectacular – Grizzlies in Denali National Park, Owls on the Dempster Highway, a Lynx in Kluane National Park, and many Foxes. There are many, many glaciers in Alaska, and I even got to walk on one at the Root Glacier in Wrangell St Elias National Park. One of the more challenging drives of the trip was the drive to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories on the Arctic Ocean. My van slogged through four inches of mud at times, but I got a chance to dip my toes in the ocean and eat some local delicacies.
Another highlight was meeting the people, and one of the best places to meet real Alaskans is at festivals or at dive bars in small towns like Chicken or Talkeetna. There you are likely to meet the kind of people you’d expect – boat captains, fishermen, oil pipeline employees, and gold prospectors. I met one Alaskan who invited me into his home, where we eventually smoked salmon and made moonshine – you can’t get much more Alaskan than that!
But the biggest inspiration on the solo Alaska trip was the scenery. I often found myself surrounded with 360-degree views of mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys, flowers, wildlife, trees, and glaciers. There is something about Alaska that makes you feel so small. I was overwhelmed many times – even getting tears in my eyes with the beauty of it all.
Photos provided Lisa Marquardt