Meeting people and experiencing places along the Alaska Highway.
Caution: Caribou Migration in Progress. It was a road sign I had never seen before, so I was on high alert. I counted six white-tailed does, one buck, and a bull moose in the span of thirty minutes. When I came upon a black bear with two cubs casually walking up my side of the road, they were so wide-eyed and innocent that I had to remind myself that cuddling them would not be the cozy experience I imagined. The watched-for caribou remained elusive.
Any disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as I crossed into British Columbia on Highway 2. I was heading for Dawson Creek and Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. This was historic.
Before the Second World War, the Canadian Northwest had been decidedly isolated and largely unknown. Its few residents survived on subsistence hunting and trapping. But in 1942, the Canadian government gave the U.S. Army access to the land and resources in the shared interest of defense against Japan. Labouring under the urgency that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and with little understanding of environmental issues or the challenges of construction on top of permafrost, the occupying army began the monumental task of building a road that would connect airfields all the way to Fairbanks. (After all, at its furthest reach in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska is closer to Tokyo than to Seattle.)
It would be years before the “Alcan” was opened to civilians, and many more years before it was much more than a dirt track, but 80 years later I was one of the beneficiaries who could now travel a mostly paved route into the wild beauty and rugged terrain of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alaska.
Keep the Bears at Bay
Though it would not be the case everywhere, the highway out of Dawson Creek was a perfect black ribbon leading into thick northern forests. Just south of the Sikanni River, I found a place to wild camp on an abandoned section of the old highway, and because signs warned of bears both black and grizzly, I employed all my planned precautions. Anticipating the northern lack of trees for hanging food, I had brought two BearVault food canisters.
After cooking dinner 100 metres away from my tent, I now set the canisters 100 metres away from both my tent and the cook site — in a triangle. It was also my first opportunity to use an electric fence kit made by Bearwatch Systems especially for backpackers. Fortunately, when nature…