Why You Need More Road Trips In Your Life
April 21, 2017 / By Chris Oudean
I love road trips. They can be an extravaganza of roadside attractions and scenic vistas, or a perfect way to relax in the seated position while also getting a taste of the outside. It beats tv on the couch any day. It’s not just some box you view the world from, it’s you moving through the world. It’s way more entertaining! With the right Stash of goodies and a wild eye for adventure, roads trips can quickly turn into an epic experience. Road trips can be fun any day, through any season, and any place with a hefty meandering of roads.
For a guy who doesn’t do winter, it can really bite. I’ve tried skiing and failed miserably. I don’t own a snowmobile, and snowboarding is as bad as skiing, except its more like a sick joke where you unwittingly find yourself on a runaway chunk of plastic with no rudder and no way to steer yourself. Just plunge down the mountain and hope for the best. Yeah, that’s just not my thing. The best option for me would be to go sledding, but as you age that really starts to hurt the hell out of your bum from all the bumps. This may all sound very strange coming from someone who grew up in Alaska, but hey, I was always more of a hibernating mammal. I did most of my romping in the summer.
While living in Alaska, in the cold dark of winter, with no intention of putting bruises on my rump, I headed out for a drive. Out of sheer boredom, my wife and I ended up driving far further than we intended to. From Anchorage to Homer is about 221 Miles, or roughly 5 hours with pit stops. The road runs through a few state and national parks, winding through a heaping portion of mountain crested valleys. Much of the road is winding and fairly narrow, but paved and usually well maintained. Out of an abundance of wisdom, we started out our drive at 4pm. It doesn’t take a math wiz to calculate when we got back to Anchorage. We arrived in Homer mere minutes before everything closed down for the night. With just enough time to grab a pizza from Starvin’ Marvins Pizza, we headed down to the shore to take in a moonlit view of the water and surrounding mountains before starting our journey back. By the time we got home, we were exhausted and filled with a feeling of accomplishment. I’m not entirely sure what we accomplished, but by George it was done! We crashed hard and woke up late the next morning.
“We would make our way back here time and time again.”
Despite our short visit, we became smitten with the small fishing town of Homer. From the quaint spit with plenty of shoreline to wander and look for critters, to the dozens of unique shops with home baked goods that can only be found here, Homer oozes coziness and hospitality. We would make our way back here time and time again.
This was the basic foundation of our long drives at first. There was the promise of some far off goal, and a taste for new sights never seen before. We realized that even if it’s the dead of winter, we could still venture out as long as the weather was decent. We once drove from Anchorage to Fairbanks in below zero temps so we could visit the World Ice Art Championship, which has been held there once a year in March for the last 26 years. If you have the ability to attend, it’s definitely an impressive sight.
Over time, we fostered this newfound madness and covered nearly every highway in the south-central and interior regions of Alaska. There was one crazy time we drove the entire loop from Anchorage to Tok (318 Mi.), then to Fairbanks (203 Mi.), and back down the other way to Anchorage (359 mi.), covering a total of 880 Miles in one go. Ok, If I remember correctly, I was delirious at one point and had to pull into a gas station parking lot for a couple hours of sleep, but aside from that, we drove the whole way without resting. This trip took us on roads we’d never travelled before, shed a light on the mystery of what these areas held, and opened our eyes to the many adventures lying in wait that surrounded us.
Our first drive to Canada was by way of the Glenn Highway, then a brief stint on the Alaska Highway, turn left on the Taylor Highway, and onto the Klondike Highway to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada for a total of 504 Miles one way. Part of the fun was driving through a town we discovered called Chicken, which is basically the smallest town in the Milepost, and the opportunity to travel on the “Top-Of-The-World” Highway. It was irresistible!
Chicken is one of the smallest towns in Alaska, with a population around 17. It’s one of the few remaining “gold rush towns” founded during the early 1900’s during the Klondike gold rush. Back in those days, education was hard to come by, and they chose the town name of Chicken due to the fact that no-one could decide on the correct spelling of the state bird Ptarmigan, which was the first choice. You can get everything from chicken keychains to the full size rubber gag chickens at the local gift shop. Artwork from local artists is sold here there as well. As of this post, they still have an active gold mining operation there.
Once you start down the road to Dawson, you’re basically on unpaved road for the next 79 miles. The Top of The World Highway is one of the northern most highways in the world, only safe to drive on during a couple of summer months. It runs atop hills the entire way looking down on alpine valleys, often times littered with huge pot holes. Dawson city is yet another town founded during the gold rush, with many very old buildings. Its a quaint little town, with much more tourism than chicken.
This was a significant trip for us. Our first adventure together outside the country.
“Our curiosity once again got the better of us, and we decided to take an epic road trip…”
In Alaska, the most popular publication of highway traveling and tourism was aptly named The Milepost. You could pick it up at your local grocery or book store pretty much year round and every year they would add a little more to keep it relevant to the latest information. It wasn’t just Alaska that it covered though. It encompassed details and information of practically every major highway that connects Alaska to the contiguous US, through Canada’s Yukon territory, British Columbia province, and the Alberta province. For years we would collect each addition of the Milepost for use on our drives around Alaska, but this whole other side of the book intrigued us. Our curiosity once again got the better of us, and we decided to take an epic road trip through Canada in the summer of 2004. We had already bookmarked all sorts of interesting places over the years. All we had to do now was figure out our route, and how to get there.
My father was nice enough to let my then girlfriend and I borrow his van for this eight thousand mile road trip of a lifetime. It took us 18 days to complete. Along the way we visited the major cities of Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, and had many, many other stops in between. I could write a book about this experience, but I will simply say that this was yet another moment that completely changed my thoughts on what I believed I could accomplish. We drove through weather of all kinds. There was wind, fog, snow, rain, and of course lots of sunny days.
I had fully gotten the travel bug. Since the major towns of Alaska were far and few between, long hours on the road were sort of a requirement if you wanted to get anywhere. Without taking vacation days, we would embark on weekends that logged over 500 miles round trip on a regular basis. We called it scouting. We would wander all over a particular area and take lots of notes and pictures. If we found anything good, we would read everything we could about it and return for a closer look. This became the foundation of our adventuring. It’s one thing to read about a place in a book, its another thing entirely to see it with your own eyes. Road trips enabled us to get out and see for ourselves what a place had to offer.
“…I know with certainty that it will be someplace new, someplace with lots of nature, and someplace we found for ourselves.”
In 2013, we had travelled so many roads that there weren’t many new places to discover, so we threw our home on our backs and left Alaska in search of a home in the lower 48. We knew we wanted to live somewhere on the western half of the US, we just weren’t sure where. So we did what we learned, we scouted. Over the next 6 weeks we wandered all over the west coast in search of a place we might call home, and along the way explored our hearts out.
We settled on living in Colorado for a time so that we could put down roots and scout the furthest areas we were considering calling home. Here we would continue our tradition of trying to travel each highway until we’d seen every region and county of the state. Then we would expand our trips even further into adjoining states. Since this last year, we visited Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In 2017, we are still planning many more road trips in our future. I don’t know where we will end up, but I know with certainty that it will be someplace new, someplace with lots of nature, and someplace we found for ourselves. We might read about it ahead just to get an idea of it, but we will not truly discover it until we have seen it with our own eyes.
The thing is, this is your life and your time. The world is far too big to only focus on visiting a few key places. In order to understand your place in it, you need to experience it. Go out, wander without some carefully choreographed vacation plan. There are countless places that travel agencies either don’t know about, or can’t find a financial reason to advertise. The real world is in between the advertisements, and the only way to find it is to discover it for yourself. So just go, and put another entry in your book of visited places.
Have you found someplace amazing and just have to share? Leave us a comment, or send us an email. We would love to hear about it, and might just have to visit for ourselves! We’ve also been to many places, almost too many to mention along the western United States, Canada, and Alaska. If there’s a region we’ve visited and you’re interested in a post about it, let us know and we will consider it for a future entry. Happy travels!
-Title image can be seen in the “Our Favorite Places” gallery.
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