Long ago—back around 1960—I was a child in school when we studied the building of the Alaska-Canada Highway—“Alcan” for short. The idea of driving all the way to Alaska caught my childish imagination, but the road was gravel. You had to carry gas cans and know how to fix your own car if it broke down because there were no services. I am not the least bit mechanically minded, so as an adult I regretfully set aside that dream as unrealistic for me.
Fast-forward fifty years. The road is asphalted. There are gas stations every hundred miles or so and finding a mechanic in a time of need is theoretically not impossible. It turns out that driving to Alaska was also a long-time dream of my soon-to-be-ninety-year-old mother-in-law. My husband (no more mechanical than I am) is now officially retired. We could do it, we told ourselves. Why not?
We began talking seriously about it eight months ago. The Alaska Tourism Board was more than happy to send us information. My husband plotted our route and contacted hotels in February. May 20 we left home with a cooler, a camera, and a box of supplies. Twenty-five days and 9,280 miles later, we arrived home, awed and eager to do it again.
The Alaska Highway had been talked about since the gold miners headed north in the 1890s. Serious route possibilities were discussed in the 1930s. But it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that pushed the US and Canadian governments to come to an agreement to make the road a reality. Work began in the spring of 1942. In June the Japanese attacked an American base in the Aleutian Islands and demonstrated the importance of an overland supply route for military bases there. More than 16,000 soldiers and civilian engineers bulldozed trees, leveled the ground, and built bridges, ditches and culverts over 1,422 miles of wilderness. At first commanders believed that Americans of African descent would not be able to handle the harsh conditions of the far north (more than 90 degrees in summer and fifty or more below zero in winter). When they finally did send African Americans, they excelled. This miracle of engineering, sometimes compared to the Panama Canal for its scope and coordination, was completed in November of 1942, only eight months after it was begun.
Now, I am a novelist. As we journeyed, I kept imagining the men who built the road, the sweethearts they left behind, the friends and brothers fighting in the Pacific. Most of these men had never been out of the lower 48 before. Most of the locals were used to traveling by dog-sled. What a range of characters! What a range of emotions in those close quarters and harsh conditions! What a setting for Christian fiction! World War 2 is big right now. I'm hoping one of my Canadian writer friends will choose the building of the Alcan as a setting. I would love to read it!
Our 2015 journey found a two-lane asphalted road, much of it with no shoulder. Some days we met another vehicle about once every ten minutes. "Facilities" were mostly long drops at roadside pullovers. We saw moose and bear, waterfalls, tundra and snow-capped mountains. Although Mom likes to take an arm to steady her these days when she walks, her spirit of adventure is strong. She’s not up to hiking, but she is more than up to riding in a car and oggling out the windows. Every day of the journey was a worship experience, praising our incredible Creator God, a shared adventure none of us will ever forget.
[Reposted from International Christian Fiction Writers. For more pictures and details of this trip, see my new travel blog, Wide-eyed Wanderer.]
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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