November 20, 2017

Part II: Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s – a Five-Part Series

Building the Alaska Highway

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s took some patience too.

A battered old pickup and an equally battered older man who turned out to be a rancher, saying he could take me a few miles up the road before he had to turn off to his place a little way down the line, pulled over to offer me a ride. I and my little kitbag literally jumped at his offer as we both dove in quick before slamming that old truck door hard to shut it.

Considering the sheer vastness of the area, his few miles a little way up the road probably really weren’t that far away for him. For me though it turned out to be a tad farther than I expected.

One hundred and thirty-three rattled and dusty miles later he pulled over to the skinny shoulder at the Mile 135 marker post stuck in the ground out in the absolute middle of nowhere. There was nothing in sight in any direction you looked except empty land dotted with a few groves of trees, the rocks and gravel of the Alaska Highway spinning off into the distance in both directions, and the old dirt track the rancher steered his pickup into after dropping me off with a piercing look and quiet little grin on his face to go along with his good wishes for a fun trip.

My sense of dismay at being dumped here was short lived as I started to chuckle at the signs of raw humor and tough challenge I’d seen on his face as he said his goodbyes. I realized quick that his dropping me there in the middle of nowhere like that was as much a challenge designed to test my mettle, as it was an equal opportunity to cross the road and snag the first possible ride back to the comforts of civilization if I didn’t have the guts to carry on to my goal.

If his ghost ever chances to read this story he’ll know which way that challenge turned out for me.

There were more than just a few big rigs and dusty vehicles that roared by and pelted me with rocks over the next few hours, before a Ford Falcon station wagon with a couple of young guys in it finally slid to a stop for me in a cloud of dust.

Before they ever let me in the car though they had one question other than wanting to know my destination – was I a driver and would I be willing to take spells driving with them so we could travel around the clock other than for necessary fuel and food stops? Naturally I answered in the affirmative because I was one, and once again me and my kitbag dived into another vehicle together to keep traveling.

Turned out they were a couple of brothers come from the big city and bright lights of Victoria BC who said they were heading to the equally big city and bright lights (they’d heard) of Whitehorse Yukon Territory – headed there to make their personal fortunes over the next couple of years before planning to scoot back home with their loot.

I knew as soon as they told me their big plans that they were in for a huge disappointment, but kept my mouth shut about it at that early stage because they were my free ticket to get a ride north. Besides, I loved driving too and figured this could turn into an interesting adventure and discussion down the road. I was right about both those parts.

The back deck of their station wagon was chock full of what they claimed to be two years worth of gear, with the back seat left bare for sleeping on. With three drivers in their vehicle now after stopping to pick me up that turned into an ideal arrangement for all of us, not only for the sleeper of the moment who groggily rotated into it for his turn in the snooze cycle.

There was good reason to feel groggy by the time your turn to sleep showed up on the schedule we’d set. Besides demanding your full and unrelenting attention, the old Alaska Highway of the day also wasn’t the smoothest road around let me tell you, being composed as it was of often larger rather than smaller gravels. It tended to beat you up pretty good mentally just to stay on it, and both you and your vehicle got beat up pretty good physically in the process too, you might say.

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s had a lot of bone-jarring moments to entertain you.

Comments

  1. Dave Harder says:

    As a hitch-hiker and someone who has been up and down the Alaska Highway, this is awesome. There is never a dull moment on the road.

    • Thanks for your comment David! And you’re absolutely right about there never being a dull moment along that road! Even now when I travel it as the super-highway it’s become these days I can still recall with utter clarity the billions of bumps its old gravel surface gave me on that first trip along its length (lol), and still picture my first-ever “Welcome to the Yukon Territory” sign south of Watson Lake that told my heart instantly that it had come “home” to where it belonged.

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