Story by Jack Stuhler with an introduction by Paul May.
Jack Stuhler, the founder of Eezi-Awn, is an adventurous man and has spent his entire life exploring the African Continent. After driving from Johannesburg to the UK through the middle east in the early 1999, Jack set his sights on the Americas. He prepared a Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Troopy by the name of Tubby for his journey and shipped it to South America. With his significant other, Margaret, their epic journey from Ushuaia to Dead Horse Alaska took over 18 months to complete in 2004/2005. They later returned south to Houston, and shipped Tubby home. Quite impressive for a couple in their 60s. Their adventures are an inspiration for us all. www.equipt1.com
Leaving Mexico and Latin America we drove over the Independence Bridge and rolled into the United States Border Post at dusk. Immigration a cinch and the Customs official giving the Troopie a cursory inspection and before long we were on our way into Harlingen, Texas.
The next morning we headed along the road paralleling the Mexican/US Border via El Paso ever northwest until we hit Interstate 10, then it was directly due west towards Tombstone and Tucson to take in some ‘Old Western Culture’ and history. A couple of days visiting and then our wheels took us directly north to Show Low where we stopped over with our dear friends Roger and Ethelyn Claude who put us up and put up with us for a little more that three weeks, then it was time to hit the road again.
Continuing northwards our first overnight stop was a free campsite at Canyon de Chelly pronounced Canyon de Chey in the northeast of Arizona and in the Navajo Reservation. Touring the South Rim the valley etched out of the monochrome rockwalls below – the river deep down running through it. Eons and eons of erosion having taken its toll by moving millions upon millions of tons of earth to goodness only know where.
After striking camp the following day it was on the road again this time towards Monument Valley in Southern Utah. It is incomprehensible as to why these natural structures have remained standing whilst all around was eroded millennia ago by ice, water, wind and dust storms. These ancient remnants are truly a monument depicting centuries of nature gone bye.
Retreating to a marvellous setting, a campsite dwarfed by monstrous cliffs and boulders towering over both sides – a site which overlooked Monument Valley from afar. Where better to set up camp for the night.
We awoke to a magical morning with sunrays streaming in through a gap in the mountains and enveloping our campsite, however within an hour the wind had picked up and inclement weather had set in. It was time to pack up our gear and head out of there. All morning we drifted north, ominous black cloud hanging overhead shedding wet, wet tears.
Rolling into Moab late afternoon we had to wait a while for the last of the rain to fizzle out before we could set up camp. It was a bitterly cold night and when we crawled out of our cosy rooftent come early morning the sun was shining and the mountains around blanketed in snow, a sunny winter wonderland and probably the last snowfall of the season.
We spent a couple of days in the Moab area exploring the National Parks of Arches and Canyonlands, enjoying the magnificent scenery of rock formations plus vistas forever. As a matter of fact we came to the conclusion and it is a personal one that Arches as far as we were concerned was more imposing and grandiose than Monument Valley.
We left our tranquil, idyllic campsite set alongside the Colorado River at the edge of Moab and ventured east and then north through Colorado and back into northeast Utah finally camping in Vernal. This followed by a marvellous drive along a most scenic route towards Wyoming via Jackson and into the Grand Teton National Park with its spectacular ragged snow-capped mountains towering over lakes and adjoining countryside. Travelling through the Park we tootled onwards arriving in the Yellowstone National Park which is inundated with geysers. We had explored the highest geyser field in the world, El Tatio in Chile, and now the largest on earth with ‘Old Faithful’ the centre of attraction spewing some of its contents of hot water at almost timed intervals.
From Yellowstone we immediately entered Montana and traversed up, up the highways and bye-ways of the State, camping for a couple of days in Polson, with its tiny local airport from which we could see all and sundry take off or land. Here we got the first glimpse of a floatplane taking off albeit small wheels protruding from the pontoons to aid rolling on the tarmac surface.
From there we skirted the Lake and wound up close to Whitefish on the smallholding of most hospitable Beizer Family and camped in a shed, Tubby with the rooftent erected dwarfed by an ocean-going yacht sitting on a trailer nearby. Next morning it was time to keep on wandering north and enter Canada, this our 15th country en route of our Odyssey. We crossed over the border incidentally on the 15th June, 2005. So much to see, so much to do.
Entering Canada in the Province of British Columbia before we knew it we were cruising into Kootenay National park and its towering mountains hanging over both sides of the road as it wound its way into and through only stopping to camp in Lake Louise situated in Banff National Park. This campsite was set amongst tall fir trees enveloped by snow-capped mountains and an electric bear-proof fence. A magnificent surrounding.
Mooching out of there come Thursday morning we entered another Park (all three Parks are actually neighbours). Can’t understand why they are not consolidated under a single name but Ce le Vies – that is how it is. The rugged mountains in these Parks are truly awesome and majestic, cloaked with ice and snow of yesteryear. Spring was in the air and a multitude of flowers showing their resplendent colours all along the way, a spectacle to behold.
Leaving the Parks behind we ventured further and further this time due west to the city of Prince George. Time to change brake pads. No sooner done the following morning our wheels took us north to Fort St John and the famous Alaskan Highway. Arriving late afternoon we pulled into a campsite located right next to the road called Lake Charlie set in a forest.
Albeit having wandered so far with so many kilometres under our belts we were awestruck as to the magnitude of the Alcan Highway. It starts in Dawson Creek, Canada and finishes off at Delta Junction, Alaska a distance of 2275 kms and we were about to tackle it but before we go on let’s give you some statistics as to the challenging construction of the roadway which was undertaken during World War 2 as a war-time supply route through the interior of Alaska for the Military and Airforce because the Japanese had invaded the western islands of Alaska. In 1942 seven army regiments and 42 contractors plus public road administrators commenced work from Delta Junction south and Dawson Creek north completed it when they met at Soldiers’ Summit at Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory in November 1942. At the peak of construction 77 contractors employed 15,000 men and 11,000 pieces of road building equipment was used. The total construction cost for the road yes USD115,000,000. The most amazing aspect of building this road was that it was done in a record breaking 8 months and 23 days. Averaging almost 10 kms per day, a stunning feat through wilderness and most inhospitable terrain one could imagine of bog, snow, permafrost, rivers and the ever present swarms of mosquitoes; an astounding achievement.
In those days the road was obviously a primitive dirt and gravel highway but today most of it is paved or chip sealed and a lot of the rough areas are clearly marked. However we had to stay alert. To many this trip represents a lifetime of planning, to us it was a means to an end just part and parcel of our Odyssey. No sooner had we topped up the diesel in the Troopie and it was time to tackle this amazing construction feat of mankind – The famous Alaskan Highway. Clocking along at 100 clicks an hour we moved rapidly ahead. By nightfall we reached and set up camp in Munch, at sparrows the following morning we were out of there.
Zooming along the raised Highway with its wide verges we came across a herd of buffalo grazing on the lush vegetation at the edge of the road, then a moose (what a dumb looking animal, looks sillier than our wildebeest back home). Some time later a flock of Canada Geese feeding off the grass seeds a little ways out in the field. Whilst cruising down a pass, Dall Sheep were licking salt at the edge of the road. All the while venturing forth there were signs along the way warning one of the ever presence and the dangerous possibility of animals wandering across the road – so it was Ochos, Ochos!!!! Eyes peeled lest we should run into one, but no such mishap.
Stopping at a motel for the night gave us a chance to charge lamp, camera and computer batteries, also to indulge in a hearty meal. As usual come sun up we were on the road again, this time pulling into Whitehorse. A couple of pies and it was out of there ever north, by mid afternoon we drifted into Dawson City situated on the confluence of the mighty Yukon and Klondike Rivers.
Dawson City, the heart of the Klondike Goldfields in the northwest Yukon Province of Canada. Apparently three Yukon sourdoughs (old timers) who are generally credited with the discovery of gold, George Carmack, Sawson Charlie and Skookum Jim one Sunday in August 1896 were walking along Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza Creek) when they stumbled across gold nuggets which set off one of the biggest goldrushes of the time. During the years of 1885/86 4,840 ounces of gold was uplifted from the area but as better equipment arrived such as steampowered and eventually converted to electrically driven dredges owned by huge conglomerates much more gold was unearthed and even as late as 2004 ten times more gold was mined e.g. 48,467 oz and mining gold has remained and will be the mainstay of the Yukon economy for many years to come.
A couple of days camping at ‘Bonanza Gold Campsite’ and visiting the local historical sites and their surroundings the road beckoned us and our reliable Troopie took us towards our ultimate destination – Alaska.
It was time to move on so it was early to bed and early to rise, close rooftent, pack our gear, take a shower, have our breakfast and tootle down to the ferry. We soon sailed across the Yukon River on the ferry!!! At the other end we were the first to drive off and immediately set off up an incredibly steep hill. We had hit the road known as ‘The Top of the World Highway’, Tubby huffing and puffing ground up the steep incline, slowly eating up the miles eventually reaching the top. For the next couple of hours we were buzzing along way above the valleys either side of the road reaching the most northern Canadian (which was not manned) and American land border crossing. No glitches as we were waved on our way – down the hill and a huge sign “Welcome to Alaska”. Yes!!! We had accomplished our mission thanks to our reliable workhorse the Toyota Landcruiser Troopie “Tubby” and obviously with a lot of luck, sheer tenacity and determination. After all it hadn’t been that long ago when driving out of Ushaia the most southern city of the World at the tip of South America – our ultimate destination was north – yes!!! – north to Alaska.
Alaska – the great land, the last frontier – the land about which so much has been written, seen on film and dreamt about. More than 580,000 square miles in area that taunted early explorers and still defies modern day adventurers. The Alaskan experience includes the sheer wonder of finding what hides beyond the horizon or over the next ridge, something new, something different, something unique. That is why it was so important for us to visit this land of such mystique and majesty.
Leaving the border post behind we cruised along the gravel road slowly descending into the valley below stopping at a little village called Chicken so named because the locals could not pronounce Ptarmigan. The road wound along like a huge shongololo eventually hitting the junction and main road leading towards Tok (pronounced similar to Coke). We trekked further west on the Highway and late afternoon entered Delta Junction being the end of the Alaskan Highway.
From Delta Junction it was an easy cruise along a road traversing through grandiose countryside – lakes, rivers and snowcapped mountains to be seen en route – scenery we almost expected of Alaska. Lunchtime we breezed into a cute village called North Pole and the House of Santa Claus. We decided it was a good place to chill out as it was also very close to Fairbanks, a couple of days respite then Sunday morning we set off and ventured north, this time on the 800 kms Dalton Highway a remote and challenging gravel road with many steep gradients paralleling the Alaskan Pipeline traversing across undulating terrain. This highway connects Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay the support centre for the North Slope Oilfields along the Arctic Ocean. The road was originally developed as a haul road to service the oilfields and the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline.
By late afternoon we pulled into the Arctic Circle rest stop right in front of the sign displaying N66°33’W150°18′, which in layman’s terms a place where the sun does not set on the summer solstice of June 21/22nd and doesn’t rise on the winter solstice of December 21/22nd. It was strange to set up camp the sun still high up in the sky. The following morning we set off again over the highest pass in Alaska at 1,440 metres. A long haul and arrived late at night in bright sunlight (remember that the sun does not set) in Prudhoe Bay only to meet German Overlanders in a 60 Series Landcruiser who had ironically also travelled from down south in Argentina, Ushaia the most southern city in the world, and made their way north as we had done to arrive at the most northern point of our travels in the Americas.
As all and sundry shut down in town by 2000 hours we drove a couple of kilometres out of town accompanied by a third Overlander accompanied by his dog in a Gelandewagen who had driven across Canada from Halifax to Alaska and set up camp between the Highway and a river. It was well after midnight, the sun still shining bright, when we hit the sack.
At last the day had arrived when we drove into town and pulled up in front of the Deadhorse Post Office and the end of the Dalton Highway. Margaret, the German couple and I in two separate vehicles in our own time had achieved what we had set out to do – barring the Darien Gap we had driven from the tip of South America to the top of North America; mileage almost 50,000 kms. If we had to pat ourselves on the back this was ‘quite an achievement’. There was only one way out of there and that was south and over the next couple of months we would wend our way to Houston, ship Tubby and fly home to South Africa.
But before we go here are some statistics of another incredible construction achievement the Alaskan Pipeline extending from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay in the north 800 miles south to the Port of Valdez. Oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 eventually leading it to be the 18th largest oil field in the World. The first pipe was laid in 1975 and oil began flowing on June 20, 1977. The pipeline project involved some 70,000 workers from 1969 to 1977 and the construction cost USD8 billion. Some 675 kms of the pipeline is elevated and the highest point is at 1,420 m over the Atigun Pass. The pipe has an outside diameter of 120 cm and approximately one million barrels of oil passes through each day. All these figures boggle the mind come to think of it!!
Having accomplished our adventure it is time to dream on. Remember guys and gals “If you cease to dream, you cease to exist” and when you drive a Toyota Landcruiser you drive a legend. Maybe our next dream is to traverse Australia and or the Far East, who knows, only time will tell.