Great Alaska Adventure: At Mile Marker Zero, Again
About three weeks ago, I sat on my bike in Key West in front of Mile Marker Zero, the southernmost point in the United States.
Today, about 4,200 miles later I sat on my bike in Dawson Creek, BC, in front of Mile Marker Zero, the southernmost (and beginning) point on the Alaska Highway. Only 1,532 miles to go to Fairbanks. The Great Alaska Adventure is definitely on.
I purposely planned today’s ride to be short because I wanted to be able to spend time in Dawson Creek visiting several museums, a gallery, and taking the obligatory tourist pictures. As a result, we delayed our departure from Grande Prairie, AB, until a little after 10 a.m., which allowed us to stay just behind the westward moving rain that we rode in yesterday. We had a few sprinkles today and rode on some wet roads but left the rain suits securely stowed in the saddlebags. The ride today was only 85 miles, and it gave me time to do a little big game hunting.
I bagged the biggest beaver I’ve ever seen. I’m going to leave it where I found it though, because there’s not a wall big enough in our North Carolina cabin to mount a beaver as big as this one.
We arrived in Dawson Creek about noon. Or so I thought. Turns out we had gone through another time zone and it was only 11 a.m. (By the way, for you folks in Orange Park, that means as I write this a little past 9 p.m. it’s now after midnight on the First Coast.) And we’ll move one time zone earlier when we get to Alaska in six days.
We wandered through a local museum in a converted railroad depot that portrayed the history of Dawson Creek and the arrival of the northern terminus of the railroad there. It was an interesting, eclectic little museum as most local museums are. This one had a reconstruction of the station master’s house, a room with about 100 taxidermy specimens, a room with miscellaneous “old stuff” people had donated, and a small section devoted to the Alaska Highway. You can’t expect local historical societies to re-create The Smithsonian, but a lot of small, local museums most of us pass by without visiting are full of interesting tidbits that help explain not just a particular town but often an entire geographic region. Some of the most meaningful work I did as an historian was working with local historical societies helping them develop interpretive themes in their museums.
We also visited a small (and the curators hope temporary) exhibit focused on the building of the Alaska Highway (known for years as the ALCAN Highway) in 1942 as the United States prepared to defend against an invasion of North America by the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. There’s no point going through the entire history of the building of the road since there are plenty of websites and books that offer thorough explanations, but I will say that it was a remarkable feat. More than 11,000 soldiers built a 1,500 mile road through rugged wilderness in some of the worst climate and environmental conditions and did it in only 8 months. Much of the highway I’ll travel in the next six days will follow exactly the path (and it was little more than a path) that they blazed. I’m excited to see the incredible scenery that’s ahead, but I hope I remember and appreciate the almost superhuman sacrifices of those who built this engineering marvel.
Our last cultural stop today was at an art museum and gallery located in an old grain elevator in Dawson Creek. The building was beautifully preserved on the outside and reconstructed on the inside, rising four stories using an inclined walkway that hugged the interior walls of the building. Art created largely by local artists populated the walls. The ground floor gallery had a variety of art for sale, but we passed on it since most of what I liked was pottery that would not likely make the return trip to Florida intact.
Then it was time for a couple pictures for posterity (and this blog).
Tomorrow we follow the compass needle north as we set our sights on Fort Nelson, BC, about 280 miles from here. Lots to see on the Alaska Highway and the weather is supposed to be some of the best we’ve had since we started out. Blue skies and temperatures most of the day in the 60s and 70s.