Alaska Expedition 2016 was a journey where 16 travelers came together to explore one of the remotest regions on the planet. Led by Sanjay and Tushar – the group comprised of people from India, the UK, and Tanzania drove in a convoy of Jeep Cherokees to explore the incredible landscapes of the largest state of United States. Starting from Anchorage, where the group was introduced and briefed about what was in store for the coming 2 weeks, we drove south to Seward where we experienced a Cruise in the Kenai Fjords National Park that took us to see a Glacier, one of nature’s breathtaking marvels.
Every few minutes, a massive chunk of ice would break from the glacier and fall into the ocean making a deafening sound. It was a first time experience for most of the participants to come face to face with such a wonderful creation of nature and this was just the beginning of the journey…
From Seward, we started our journey north, crossed Anchorage and took a stop in the picturesque town of Talkeetna which is also home to the famous Denali National Park. Talkeetna is also the base for all mountaineers who come to Alaska aspiring to climb Mount Denali (previously known as Mount Mckinley) , the largest peak in all of North America! After a dinner in a cozy restaurant in the town, we called it a night and the following morning we drove into Denali National Park for an all day tour of the 4 million acres of wilderness. For some travelers, Denali National Park is the reason to visit Alaska. Home to some of the world’s unique wildlife, we were fortunate enough to see Grizzly Bears, Mountain Goats, Bison, Salmon, Reindeers and a lot of other animals that can only be found in Alaska! After a rewarding ride through the park, we continued north towards Fairbanks.
Fairbanks, basically an industrial town, may not have anything special to offer, but for us, it was going to be the beginning of one of the most memorable drives of our lives. This is the place from where the Dalton Highway starts which goes all the way north to the town of Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay, the northern most motorable town in all of United States. The drive on the Dalton Highway, also known as the Haul Road, was the highlight of our journey. Considered as one of the remotest and dangerous highways in the world, it is an absolutely thrilling experience to drive through this highway all the way to Deadhorse.
Mostly gravel, we had to be careful of the trucks that drive at very high speeds throwing gravel and stones back at your windscreen. If you are able to avoid a chip on your windscreen, you are a very, very lucky person! The long, winding bends, the pendulum-like terrains where trucks have to drive really fast otherwise they might risk getting stuck in the belly of the pendulum, the absolutely breathtaking landscapes, the very remoteness of the highway and of course, the Alaska Pipeline, that runs parallel to the Dalton Highway throughout, makes driving on this highway a journey of a lifetime.
Driving on the Dalton Highway also took us beyond the Arctic Circle located at 66 degrees North!
For most of the group, it was another first in their lives to cross the Arctic Circle line which, for us was symbolic of the fact that we are really heading north, further north from all of the civilization. Of course, we took selfies at the Arctic Circle Sign Board, but were pleasantly surprised to receive certificates from the local authorities for having reached this far north at the Arctic Circle by road!
We continued further north and the only sign of any human life before we reached Deadhorse was a night halt in a place called Cold Foot. Dedicated as a rest stop for truckers, Cold Foot has a makeshift hotel which offers cabins, food, and fuel for vehicles to travelers heading north towards Deadhorse. For the 240 miles, there would be no services.
The following morning, we switched on our ignitions and drove as north as we could possibly go by road in North America. We continued driving for 6 hours and finally reached Deadhorse, the end of the Dalton Highway. It was one of those moments that will stay with all of us forever.
We popped open a bottle of champagne, celebrated our epic drive and finally, after driving for long remote stretches over the last few days, we all got a well-deserved sleep. Next day, we took a bus tour of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields that took us around the oil rigs to give us a glimpse of how oil is drilled out of the Arctic Ocean. Deadhorse basically is an oil drilling town which has no permanent population and most people living here keep shuttling between their hometowns and Deadhorse, mostly working here for 2 weeks and going home for the remaining 2 weeks during a month. After looking around this unique town and having touched the waters of the Arctic Ocean, once again, we hit the Dalton Highway and started heading back towards Fairbanks.
The night halt in Cold Foot the second time was another experience, it was another night that would be cherished and remembered forever.
Why? Because on this night, we were treated to a wonderful show of the surreal Northern Lights! A rare occurrence, we saw the green and pink lights appear in the clear night sky and actually saw the lights dance, change shapes and colors and just kept staring at another of nature’s wonderful marvels. The lights just made the whole experience even more special. For all of us, experiencing the Northern Lights completed our experience of Alaska, there was nothing more that we could ask for except that we still had a bit more left in the store for the next few days! We drove back towards Fairbanks the next day, said goodbyes to our trusted Jeep Cherokees and after taking it easy for the rest of the day, the following morning, we boarded the world famous Alaska Railroad that took us on a 12-hour journey from Fairbanks to Anchorage. We witnessed even more beautiful landscapes through the dome shaped glass ceiling of the Alaska Railroad and were fortunate enough to even sight Mount Denali as the train passed through Denali National Park.
We reached Anchorage by evening, and the following day, which was also the last day of the journey, all of us took a ride on the iconic Float Planes of Alaska that take off and land on water. We went on a joy ride to get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful city of Anchorage and the mountain terrains around it.
Finally, after 2 weeks, the Alaska Expedition concluded. 16 strangers came together to experience something amazing. They experienced the highs, pushed their limits, sometimes felt out of their comfort zone, but their desire to explore the unexplored not only made them a part of a rare group of travelers but also brought all of them closer and left them bonded forever.