Thursday, March 24, 2011

Road Trip circa 1973, pt. 1

In August of 1973 I was living in Grants Pass, Oregon. My wife Cary was pregnant with our first daughter, and was going to Europe with her mother for two weeks. We were thinking of moving to Alaska, well...I was thinking of moving to Alaska, and thought that this would be a good time for a exploratory trip.  I also thought it would be fun to take my two nephews along. Russ and Tim, 16 and 13 respectively, were great kids, and over the years had often gone fishing and hunting with me. They lived with my sister Cora and brother-in-law Stew in Bend. I bought a Milepost, the great annual magazine about the Alaska Highway, researched as best as one could in that pre-google era, and made our 1971 Toyota Land Cruiser ready for the trip. A roof rack, a second spare tire, and two five gallon gas cans on the back.

A couple days after Cary left for the mother-daughter vacation, I left Grass Pants (the nickname of Grants Pass, origin unknown), drove to Bend early in the morning, gathered up the nephews and headed north on Highway 97. The plan was to camp at night, drive all day, and decided where we'd go as we got there.

We crossed into BC the first day, entering the Okanagan Valley, and camped that first night somewhere north of Kamloops. That evening we drove to a small store nearby, and the proprietor informed us that our President had resigned. I bought a six-pack in celebration of Nixon's exit, and some cider for the boys. Around the fire that evening, it took me a bit to realize that the kids were getting a bit garrulous and silly. On closer inspection of the apple cider I determined it was hard cider. They were disappointed to hear that the can they had in their grimy paws was the last one they would get.

We spent the next day driving north, stopping north of Prince George, BC. The scenery reminded everyone of the area north of Bend, pine, rimrock, some sagebrush.

The boys proved to be good travelling companions, the Land Cruiser was not the fastest of vehicles, and 60 mph was about as fast as it wanted to go. Stiff suspension made for a bumpy ride, and the one who sat in the back on one of the two sideways-facing bench seat was both crowded by our gear, and had a sore butt and head (from hitting the roof on bumps).

We got to Dawson Creek on the third day of the trip, as I remember. The small town was the 'official' start of  the Alaska Highway.

 The Alaska Highway in 1973 was 1,500 miles of dirt and gravel road. The copy of the Milepost was invaluable, it described the road in detail, and was surprisingly accurate. It warned us of a huge pothole at the start of the road, and indeed there it was. From this point, our speed dropped to around 40 mph, both because of road conditions, but the flying gravel from passing trucks and cars. It was an adventure, and vehicles were either well-equipped, or sitting at the side of the road.

The cover of an old book, the road looked exactly like this.

Note the screen added on the front of this pickup, keeping rocks from breaking the headlights and puncturing the radiator.

A newer picture, but what the road was like then, for 1500 miles.

In the following days we went through northern BC, into the Yukon Territory, and on into Alaska. Russ drove occasionally, ran off the road, then while walking slipped into a flooding stream and disappeared for several seconds. Tim on a mission to get dinner, ground-sluiced a flock of ducks, and was responsible for a border inspector getting a fishing hook in his hand.

To be continued......

1 comment:

  1. I love true-life adventure stories, and this one sounds like a good one. Looking forward to the next installment.