December 3, 2023

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

A bridge being built along the old Alaska Highway

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s gave you the chance to get to know the people you were traveling with, which was not necessarily something you would normally have chosen to do under other circumstances.

What turned out to be not quite so ideal about this trip though was the continuing argument we got into early on, and kept feuding about during a lot of our waking hours over the rest of the near eight hundred miles before finally reaching Whitehorse. Our arrival there at 5 pm on April 9, 1971 settled that argument but good – and I won it hands down despite never having been there before either!

You might remember my earlier reference to a clear lack of common sense in other areas regarding these boys? They showed that lack big time when it came to their cast-in-stone preconceptions of what Whitehorse would be like as a city. They were absolutely certain it would be just another version of Victoria BC where they’d come from, complete with clean paved streets, traffic lights on every intersection, and all of the amenities their clearly pampered lives had led them to believe must exist there.

I hadn’t been there before either, but large doses of ordinary plain common sense alone told me this grungy gravel road wasn’t going to lead us to no big city lights and broad paved avenues of asphalt – never mind to any too many of the other amenities they were clearly fixated on expecting to find in abundance there.

It was a wryly interesting and confirming experience for me to witness their successive and increasing disappointment as each little town we passed through failed to exhibit the slightest inclination to use pavement, even for the dusty rock-strewn sections leading through the heart of those communities. To me it was a clear harbinger of what was yet to come, but these boys just couldn’t bring themselves to believe Whitehorse could be anything but what their expectations had convinced them must exist there.

Today Whitehorse Yukon Territory is a bustling hub and capital city of the Yukon, with all of the infrastructure, paved roads and amenities those boys were expecting – but not yet anywhere near such a state on that late April afternoon in 1971.

Weary, road battered and anxious but still filled with their golden expectations, the brother who finally turned that dusty station wagon off the Alaska Highway to drive down the South Access hill was clearly disappointed to discover it was still just another gravel trail. As we followed its wending course down into the valley and along the famous Yukon River of Gold Rush fame, all that could be seen over the scanty buildings of Whitehorse was a faint pall of dust hanging in the air.

The increasingly bitter disbelief evident on their faces soon matched the bitter oaths beginning to stream from their mouths the closer we got to what appeared to be a downtown area.

As we drove slowly up and down the two dozen or so streets of the town they discovered to their final chagrin that there was only one short strip of pavement in the whole town, located along a two-block stretch of Main Street – and that there was only one single traffic light in the whole place too, located strategically at the intersection of Main Street and Second Avenue, the other seeming main thoroughfare through the place.

Hitch-hiking the twisty old gravel Alaska Highway of the early 1970’s had finally landed me in Whitehorse Yukon Territory.

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