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We Drive Our 1977 Big-Block Ford F-150 on 42s All the Way to Alaska for Ultimate Adventure

Ultimate (Mis)adventure

Me: I'm going to drive my truck to Alaska this year for Ultimate Adventure!

Editor Hazel: Yeah, lots of people are doing that. Trent already drove the Rover up to prerun the route.

Me: Oh, but I'm going to drive a truck with a big-block!

Editor Hazel: Yeah, the Watsons are driving their shop truck with a 454 in it.

Me: Oh, but I am doing it on 42s!

Editor Hazel: Yeah, the Messers are driving up their Cherokee on 42s.

So maybe this trip wasn't as unique as I had hoped, but it was memorable nonetheless. After taking an oath of secrecy about the location for Ultimate Adventure 2019, my friend Brian Sumner and I took eight days to drive from Reno to Wasilla a month prior to the start. Tech Editor Verne Simons and I had previously driven my 1977 F-150 (dubbed Raymond, since everyone loves it) 2,300 miles to Cabo San Lucas and back, so I wasn't too worried about the reliability of the truck, just wearing out 42-inch-tall tires and feeding the thirsty 460 engine a steady diet of 91-octane premium.

We took our time meandering north from Portland, which turned out to be a bad idea since we were stuck in traffic all the way from Tacoma to Bellingham. At least with two of us in the truck we were able to use the OHV lane! We added a custom fan shroud from CR Fabrication before the trip, and between that and the Griffin aluminum radiator we never had cooling issues.

We started on familiar territory, north from Reno through Bend and on to Portland on a path I have taken many times. From there we made our way up the interstate and crossed the border at Abbottsford, where the route was less familiar. My copilot, Brian, was armed with The Milepost, a book that provides details about stops along the Alcan Highway in startling detail. At the end of each day we would look through the book and make a rough plan of what we wanted to stop and see and where we wanted to go for the night. Each day we covered around 400 miles, which we felt was necessary in order to complete the 3,000-mile trip in a reasonable time and still allow for some sightseeing.

Other teams traveling to the UA swapped drivers and drove straight to Wasilla, arriving drained for the exhausting week ahead. Then they turned around and drove straight home! When you own a business or only get two weeks of vacation a year, there aren't many other options. But we did have options, at least on the drive up.

My plan was for crony Ken Smith, who drove the Ford on UA, to drive the truck back to Reno after the event. Things took a turn for the worse when we hydrolocked the engine on a particularly deep water crossing in the Eureka Trail System. Ken knew better than to try and start the engine. After we were winched out of the river, he pulled the plugs to get the water out and changed the oil. Everything was fine for the rest of the trip, until the last day.

We worried that fuel would be an issue, so B-Radd Customs built us this rack for the bed. We never had to use these cans on the trip north but the giant Canyon Cooler definitely came in handy. Under the rack, a fullsize spare tire sits in front of two Action Packers full of camping gear.

LA Speed built the 460 with hydraulic roller lifters from Comp Cams, and one of the lifters got water in it during the submarine impression. It operated fine until lack of lubrication killed the lifter. Swapping a lifter isn't a huge deal unless there are no parts to be found. Ken ended up driving the orange double-ended JK back from Alaska, and UA attendees Frank and Cole Wininger were nice enough to let me leave the truck in their shop. Cole even offered to fix the Ford for me since he shares my affinity for these old Blue Oval trucks. After taking a week off for UA, though, the Winingers got busy at their drilling company, trying to get caught up on work before winter hit. I was worried about winter hitting as well, and at the end of September the truck still wasn't back together.

I had considered shipping the Ford to Seattle on a barge, but it had to be running to do that. The clock was running too, so with few options left I hooked an empty trailer behind my Ram and drove north. I made it to Wasilla in three days, and Cole had got the 460 running so I didn't even have to winch it onto the trailer. I was drained, though, from driving 16 hours a day and sleeping in my truck, and I still had to get home. Another good friend helped me out (there's definitely theme here) by flying into Anchorage at the last minute and driving back to Nevada with me. David Wiggins didn't get to spend eight days sightseeing, but he still got to experience the Alcan Highway and see plenty of the breathtaking scenery and wildlife that drew us to Alaska in the first place. To quote The Beatles, "I get by with a little help from my friends."

Starting the Cassier Highway in Gitwangak you really start to feel like you are in the northern territory. Authentic totem poles line the streets of Gitwangak, and we encountered First Nation peoples fishing for salmon with dipnets. The huge totem poles dwarfed our Ford truck.
We alternated camping and cooking with hotels and dinners at restaurants in order to keep the budget reasonable. Each night we would lay out a plan for the next day regarding which stops we wanted to make, where we could purchase fuel, and how far we planned to go.
Boya Lake is a British Columbia provincial park known for its sparkling clear water. The lake bottom consists of marl, which is a combination of silt and shell fragments that are white in color. You can rent canoes here and hike around the lake to fish and find beaver dams. We could have easily spent all day at Boya Lake.
Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon Territory, and along its shores the U.S. Army built a road during World War II. Or more appropriately tried to build a road, as they were unfamiliar with the freeze-thaw cycles of the area. Here you will also find the ominously named Destruction Bay. We were fortunate to pass the area without incident.
We hadn't seen any wildlife on our trip until we started on the Cassier Highway, and then we saw four black bears in a span of 20 kilometers. Off the Cassier Highway we visited the town of Stewart, which is known for its abundance of bears.
We backtracked a few miles on the Alcan after finishing up the Cassier Highway to check out the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake. We assume the town is named after Stephen Watson from Offroad Design, but no one could confirm this for us. Do you see a sign from your town in there?
Johnson's Crossing is the southern terminus of the Canol Road, which was built during World War II to transport oil from the northern territories (Canol is a portmanteau of Canadian oil). The southern 200 km of the road is a beautiful gravel road, while the northern 200 km has fallen into disrepair. We hear it is impassible, but we want to go back and find out for ourselves.
When in Rome, right? Or in this case, when in the Yukon, eat a Klondike bar! What would you do for a Klondike bar? We would drive a truck with a 460 big-block and 42s up to Alaska. The ice cream was the cheapest part of the entire trip, and it was actually warm enough to enjoy it.
Whitehorse is a gem in the Yukon. The town has excellent restaurants and hotels, along with some wonderful trails along the Yukon River. A suspension bridge crosses Miles Canyon with single track for hiking and mountain bikes. Another place we need to go back and explore further.
We added a new intake before the UA that feeds air from behind the grille. We thought it was high enough for water crossings, but we were wrong. Ken Smith pulled the plugs and changed the oil, but we ended up losing a lifter on the last day due to lack of lubrication.
What a difference a couple of months make! We drove up to Alaska at the beginning of August and then returned for the Ford at the beginning of October. Note how much snow there is along the Glenallen Highway, and winter was still months away. We can only imagine what this area looks like in January.
The cavalry arrived in the form of David Wiggins. A firefighter in Elko, Nevada, David had some free time and booked a last-minute ticket to Anchorage to help us drive home. We won't say that we couldn't have done it without him, but we certainly wouldn't have wanted to.
Alaska is such a rugged and beautiful state, and despite making multiple trips this summer we still only scratched the surface. We will definitely be back again to explore more of the mountains, glaciers, and mining towns.
Dense fog made for slow going for much of our drive. Between roads we were unfamiliar with, towing a trailer, and dodging wildlife on the roads, we had to slow to a crawl until the fog lifted. This was frustrating since we were on a short timeline, but we certainly didn't want to risk an accident.
Dragging the truck across the border was not nearly as satisfying as driving it, but it was more practical. We only spent $5 more on diesel fuel for the round trip than we did on premium gas for the 460 engine on the one way up to Alaska!
The sunsets were beautiful on our return trip, they just came way too early in the day. We prefer to drive during daylight hours, particularly when there is wildlife on the road, but the short days in October meant that we had to drive at night. Going 50 mph pulling a trailer felt like we would drive for hours and not get anywhere.
While the rescue trip was a mad dash, we did take time to stop at Liard Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Copilot David Wiggins is a hot springs aficionado, and this was a condition of his before he would fly up to share driving duties. A provincial park, the hot springs are affordable and very nice. You can even camp at the park.
We went up to rescue the old Ford at the beginning of October, and we didn't have chains for our tow rig or our trailer. We lucked out with the weather; they had already had a few snowstorms in Alaska and Canada in September. We did get a screw in one of the trailer tires, but we kept an eye on the pressure and just topped it off each morning.
Many of the campgrounds, restaurants, and gas stations along the Alcan were closed when we returned in the fall. Winter comes early this far north. Fortunately, our Cummins-powered Ram tow rig has double the range of our thirsty F-150 so we never got too nervous about fuel.
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