May 15, 2024

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

A dozer at work building a portion of the old Alaska Highway

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s also meant you were willing to take your life in your hands to get to your destination.

The Alaska Highway in its old configuration had a well known reputation as a harsh and unforgiving road that didn’t allow for much more than one or two stupid driving mistakes.

Being crowned high in the middle for drainage purposes also meant it was canted on both sides, meaning you were always leaning in one direction or another depending whether you were driving north or south on it – while at the same time trying not to fall asleep because of the lean. You could get used to that or not – not that there was really much choice involved for you in the matter if you wanted to stay alive and on the road.

Being composed of gravel also made it an ideal skating surface for vehicles, especially if you drifted into a curve a little bit too fast. Lots of wrecks, injuries and fatalities happened along its route because of inattention to this other minor detail of staying alive on this gnarly old gravel road.

What was a little harder to get used to and usually made up the scariest experience for those unfamiliar with driving this road though, was how to live through the experience of driving over the crest of any one of the hundred thousand or so roller-coaster-style short hills deliberately engineered into it along its full length. Most folks got it wrong at least once, but if they survived it, once was usually enough to not only scare the living snot out of them but also make them maniacally safety conscious about all the rest still left for them to cross.

The reason this particular driving technique was so critical to learn was that most of these hill crests were blind ones, meaning you couldn’t see what was coming at you from the other side of it until you actually topped the crest of it. If you weren’t paying attention or were simply too stupid to pull as far over to the right side of the road as you safely could before cresting it, there was no guarantee there wouldn’t be a transport truck or another vehicle about to give you the big metal kiss of a head-on collision in the microsecond of fatal realization left to you before impact.

Countless deadly collisions of this nature had already occurred over the years of its existence, and many more were still to come over the years remaining before governments decided it was time for major upgrades and rebuilding of the entire road system.

There were even signs to this effect about pulling over to the right preceding every one of those hills, but that didn’t seem to prevent most of the inattentive or stupid ones from dying under these circumstances anyway. A brutal reality and a brutal process of elimination, but at least it weeded out those who didn’t have enough common sense to get to the North alive let alone survive a stay in it. They’d undoubtedly have found another way to kill themselves by inattention or stupidity even if they’d been lucky enough to reach their original destinations – plus the North Land itself had a natural way or two as well of handling those kinds of folks, and they didn’t usually last long up there in any event.

Let’s just say that despite their clear lack of common sense in other areas, as drivers the two brothers both survived and learned this particular driving technique pretty quickly after having their own allocations of snot scared clear out of them. As a driver myself I had a natural habit of reading the road signs and actually paying attention to them, so the trip wasn’t nearly as hard on me as it was on them.

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s had its moments of terror to contend with when the hands of others were controlling your destiny, instead of your own.

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