For as long as I can remember, the Alaskan Highway, known as the ALCAN Highway, has been something my parents, and especially my dad had been interested in…for most of his adult life, in fact. Construction began on the highway during World War II for the purpose of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska through Canada. The highway begins in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, at the junction of several Canadian highways, and runs to Delta Junction, Alaska, via Whitehorse, Yukon. The highway was completed in 1942 at a length of 1,700 miles, but as of 2012, it is only 1,387 miles long. The difference is due to constant reconstruction of the highway, which has included rerouting and straightening numerous sections. The highway formally opened on November 21, 1942, but only for military use. It was not opened to the public until 1948. The highway has been legendary for decades as being a rough and challenging drive, probably because parts of it were not paved. Now however, the entire length is paved, so I suppose that took much of the difficulty out of it.
My dad has always loved to travel, and the ALCAN Highway literally called his name. It was his dream for all of his daughters and their families to caravan to Alaska by way of the ALCAN Highway. I think that needed to be a trip taken when we were all still single, and living at home, because it ended up being an unrealized dream from my dad’s life. I think Dad would have made the trip anytime we could all get our plans together, but that simply never happened. If one of us could have done it, some of the others couldn’t have, and Dad couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving anyone out. When their 50th wedding anniversary rolled around in 2003, my sisters and I decided that we needed to send them on an Alaska cruise, and while it was not the drive on the ALCAN Highway that Dad had wanted, it did let them visit Alaska, and that was the main thing…I suppose. They had a wonderful time, but I’m sure that it was a little bittersweet too, because they were there without their family. My husband, Bob and I, and my niece Toni Chase and her husband, Dave have since taken cruises to Alaska too, and I know my parents would be happy about that, but looking back now, I wish we could have figured out a way to make their dream of the drive on the ALCAN Highway a reality. I really do continue to regret that.
Over the years, informal historic mileposts have been added to denote major stopping points in the highway’s construction. Dawson Creek sports the milepost marker for the start of the ALCAN Highway. Delta Junction, which is the end of the highway, makes reference to its location at Historic Milepost 1422. The Alaska Highway meets the Richardson Highway at this point. The Richardson Highway continues 96 miles to the city of Fairbanks. This is often regarded, though unofficially, as the northern portion of the Alaska Highway, with Fairbanks at Historic Milepost 1520. It makes sense, but was not part of the original construction. The mileposts on this stretch of highway are measured from Valdez, rather than the Alaska Highway. Another oddity is that, the ALCAN Highway is popularly, though not officially, considered part of the Pan-American Highway, which extends south to Argentina, despite its discontinuity in Panama. It’s quite an amazing system, and I think I can see why my dad was so fascinated by it.