Driving is tough at the best of times. Driving extremely long distances, or driving in the winter, or driving on a Transporter-like exact schedule are all extra tough. Doing all of them together? Completely insane. And yet, that’s what we’re doing. With nothing but a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, a set of BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires, and a Rigid Industries LED lights, we’re driving from Seattle to Alaska in winter on the ALCAN5000 rally.
On the first day, we were precise, but not accurate. We kept to a schedule exactly. It just happened to not be the right schedule. Our odometer and speedometer, because of our tire size change, were about 2-percent optimistic, but that accrued enough error for us to take some big penalties. We’ve now corrected the error, but we fell to fourth in class, and eleventh overall. Which isn’t bad, of course. The problem is, we sort of ought to be ringers. Brad Lovell just won the Legends class at the 2016 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge. I’ve won the North American Rally Championship and a medal at the X Games. Chris Komar is a top instructor at the Team O’Neil Rally School.
Day 2: No Mistakes Allowed
We kind of suck at road rallying, but we’re going to get it back. Today our scores are much better – fifth overall and first in class for the day and now second in class for the event so far. And we’re relying on our equipment and skills to keep us on the road. Others haven’t been so lucky. We helped extract two racecars in the rally from a ditch today when they slid off the roads that had falling rain on top of ice. We hadn’t really noticed how slippery it was since we were in 4H in the Jeep and had the new KO2 tires on. But when we got out to assist and had a hard time standing up … well, let’s just say the guys who went off had a good excuse.
We crossed the continental divide in heavy fog on Pine Pass, more northerly than any of the three passes that anyone really uses in Canada. We stopped at Chetwyn, the chainsaw-carving capital of Canada, where they still are celebrating the holidays (we didn’t question this, they all have chainsaws). And we made a stop at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, which is the gateway to our journey.
How nice are the locals? The Tourism Director for Dawson Creek came out to meet us at 8:00 p.m. and opened the visitor center to take a picture for the Alaska Highway News and show us the vintage Willys they have that was one of the vehicles used to build the Alaska Highway. And he said it was his honor to host us. Amazing.
Tomorrow we will drive all the way to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Which is very far north. Apparently male polar bears do not hibernate. And although all three of us are about equally bad as road rally competitors, I reckon I can run faster than Chris, anyway.
Day 3: Cold. Really Cold. And Big.
I find travelling puts things in perspective. Upset that the neighbor's fescue is coming in better than yours? Take a trip to Death Valley. Think your town is getting pretty crowded? Go shopping in Tokyo. Think it's hot out? Quick trip to the Sudan.
One nice upshot of our Alcan5000-Arctic Roads expedition is that it's putting things in perspective. Tonight it is -35C/-31F outside. I will never complain about the cold again. Or at least for a while. OK, not before next week. But it's still really cold. Also, this place is really large. Like, not large like the Mall of the Americas large or Kanye's ego large. Really large. Epic, massive, vast, hard-to-grasp large. With almost no-one home. OK, maybe a bit like Kanye's ego.
And yet we're exploring it. Today we crossed the 60th parallel into the Northwest Territories on the Mackenzie Highway, crossed an improbably massive bridge over the river, and headed north to Yellowknife. We took a detour to test out the BFG KO2 All-Terrains on an ice road (aka a frozen lake) that reminded us that "road" is a funny word to put on something so slippery, cracked, and transparent. It just happens to be called a "road" because, up here, it's used to get to places in the cold vastness.
The tires were amazing, which is good, as tomorrow is the ice slalom north of Yellowknife. We are second in class and within shooting distance of the leader, so we want to make sure our Wrangler Rubicon sticks to the course. We are very closely bonded with this rig now. Not only is it 100 percent reliable, comfortable, and able, but it's beginning to smell like us. Which is not to say it smells good.
At dinner, we looked out to see a wild fox casually trotting down the alley. It didn't seem too worried about the cold, or the vastness, or our ice slalom tomorrow. Although it did seem a little bit curious about how we smelled.
Sort of puts it all into perspective.