May 18, 2024

Part I: Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s, a five-part Series

Old Alaska Highway

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s is one of the more memorable journeys I’ve ever taken.

It was still known by its other name back then too – the Alcan Highway – 1,700 miles of rough tough gravel road over some of the most inhospitable terrain known to road builders of the day.

Back in that era of the early 70’s it was still in its original war time USA-military-built configuration – a narrow gravel road built to twisted and looping standards designed to defeat bombing or strafing runs expected to be made by raiding Japanese aircraft on military convoys transiting its dusty surface during WW II.

The only human habitation to be found along its entire length from the outskirts of Dawson Creek BC all the way to Delta Junction Alaska those days were the infrequent little highway lodges, and even more infrequent little towns dotting its long and knurly length.

Between those locations was nothing but mountains, hills and valleys covered in raw bush and miles of swamp and muskeg bisected by an uncommon abundance of rivers and creeks, every inch of which distance seemed to be wrapped in clouds of mosquitoes that were usually thick enough to stop most folks cold in their tracks before they turned and ran away.

Large freight and fuel trucks traveling its surface were plentiful, business and sales travelers were mandatory in certain numbers and private travelers in their vehicles were still considered a relative rarity.

Hitch-hikers though were almost unheard of let alone seen anywhere along its bleak surface back then. They were still considered an uncommon breed along this artery of travel, with few having the desire let alone the determination necessary to brave its rocky length of travel.

Apparently I was part of that still uncommon breed of the day, because my age of 23 at the beginning of April 1971 saw me standing on the dusty outskirts of Dawson Creek BC with my thumb stuck high in the air to catch the attention of passing motorists, already intent on reaching my destination of Whitehorse Yukon Territory almost a thousand miles up the road. My faithful little travel kitbag lay on the ground at my side just waiting to be picked up and tossed into the vehicle of the first sucker who’d dare to stop and offer my sorry looking carcass a ride.

Those were still rough days and my traveling clothes weren’t anything but rough looking either, so I couldn’t really blame all the folks who passed me by in those first couple hours. I figured it’d take somebody who understood the meaning of rough to have the understanding to stop for me, and I was right about that as it turned out for my first ride.

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s required stubbornness and endurance.

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