The preparation was finished for the trip, bags were packed, and the FJ was filled to the roof with gear. We were off—my brother Sutton and I left San Diego, leaving the beach behind and charging north toward Alaska. The first day was just us trying to get miles under our tires, pushing hard to make it north and meet up with Robert Rossi.
After a day of hiking and exploring in Zion National Park, we met up with Rob. Even after visiting Zion multiple times it still takes your breath away, seeing those steep red walls surround the green valley floor. After a relaxing evening by the fire, telling stories and catching up with Rob we hit the road, heading north.
Taking Interstate 15 north you pass by so many places you want to explore, but when the goal is as far away as Alaska is, you just have to push past them and keep on going. We had to stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and of course, the world motorcycle speed trials would be going on. The Salt Flats are really someplace everyone should see. You don’t get a sense of scale from the photos; it just goes on forever.
Our plan was to go on to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but due to wildfires we took an alternate route, back East a bit through Idaho. Friends and fellow travelers have told me is that there’s not much in Idaho, but what a surprise we were in for. The first night was in the middle of Crater of The Moon National Monument and Preserve; setting up in a probably not so legal location we popped the tents and started cooking. The second night was spent just outside of McCall, Idaho, camped by a natural hot springs. One lesson we learned here was always ask the locals. We were sitting at the bar in McCall and asked the bartender about local campsites, and he provided us with some good information.
Here’s where things started falling apart. We were driving up to Glacier National Park, and I started hearing a weird sound. There was a ticking sound coming from the drivetrain; we pulled over and discovered my rear differential had lost a tooth. We rolled into Polson, Montana, and called East Coast Gear Supply, who I had gotten my gears from before. They were able to overnight me a new third member and have it delivered on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend. That Saturday, we were able to get the new third member installed in an AutoZone parking lot in under 4 hours.
Off we went to one of our first big destinations, Glacier National Park. This was one place all of us were looking forward to see, with the beautiful blue lakes and great campsites. This was our first bit of time spent in colder weather, and getting used to it was interesting, especially coming from sunny San Diego and 80°F.
We hit the road early, making it to Great Falls to meet up with my family. Then we were off to Banff and Jasper. While crossing into Canada, I realized that I was really headed to Alaska. The area surrounding Banff and Jasper is a really special place with so many awesome hiking trails, jaw-dropping landscapes, and unique campsites. I will definitely be back to explore this area more.
For the next few days we just tried to get the miles behind us. Along the way we were able to stop and see Liard Hot springs, which is a must-see stop for anyone passing by. Being able to relax 24/7 in a natural hot spring is awesome.
As we left Whitehorse we embarked on our first major stretch of dirt road, which was the Top of The World Highway. The road between Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and Chicken, Alaska, is mixed dirt and asphalt, but is overall an easy drive. We saw several smaller RVs along the route, but we were excited to get off the asphalt and get some dirt on our tires.
We made it to Alaska. It’s hard to realize how far away Alaska is from the lower 48. It’s just about 2,000 miles from the US-15 border crossing to the Top of The World Highway border crossing. Pushing through the last stretch of the Top of The World Highway we arrived in Chicken. It’s one weird little town nestled away from everything, a place people went to escape the busy rush of the city. Our next stop was back in civilization, Fairbanks, Alaska. Our goal was to restock before the big push up north; we stopped for groceries and some of the last cheap fuel. The Dalton Highway started off easy, the first few miles are pavement and you think this isn’t so bad, then all of a sudden the pavement disappears and you’re driving in 2- to 3-inch- deep mud with semitrucks flying past you. It had rained the few days prior to us starting the Dalton and the whole road was soupy mud—it was time to engage 4WD and hope for the best.
After about 5 hours of driving at 30 mph we arrived in Coldfoot, one of the only towns along the Dalton. Since the road is so remote these towns can pretty much charge whatever they want for fuel—I believe Coldfoot was about $4.70 a gallon. With a gap of 250 miles that would push my FJ Cruiser’s range, we fueled up the trucks and extra gas cans and headed toward the Arctic Circle which was our campground for the night.
Waking up at the Arctic Circle is a bit strange; it hadn’t set in for me yet where I was until we passed the sign pictured above. We got an early start, knowing we wanted to make it to Prudhoe Bay and back down to the Arctic Circle in one day, a roundtrip of 500 miles of rough dirt roads. The road had dried out a bit overnight, but once we arrived at the Brooks Range it all changed: the Atigun Pass was covered in snow. Twelve-percent grades are not really that fun in the snow, especially when the road is pretty slick, which is just what my Goodyear MTR tires struggle in. The climbs are the easy part; it’s when you start going downhill and your tires slide when you hit the brakes that really gets your heart pumping. Now’s when I wish I had a set of Goodyear Duratracs like Rob’s—he had zero issues in the snow.
After the pass, the road slowly transformed back into dirt, and we were able to pick up some speed. I swear that the last 50 miles of the road were the worst—it seemed that the construction crews just poured 2- to 3-inch rocks on the road and called it done. Every time you pass a semitruck you flinch and hope that nothing hits your car. I made it about 10 miles when a passing semi kicked up a huge rock, and of course, it would fly right into my windshield.
Prudhoe Bay is a weird town completely run by oil, there’s no other reason why it’s there. You get to drive around looking at all the crazy trucks that are built to withstand the winters; with a record low of -62°F, they have to be prepared. Going as far north as you can legally drive takes you to a small pulloff before a security gate; this is the Top of the World. The last few miles of the road are controlled by the oil companies, and you can’t drive to the Arctic Ocean unless you have special permission. But hey, we made it to Prudhoe Bay. We took our photos and went to the only store in town to buy some stickers, then drove south back to the Arctic Circle. People wonder why we drove up to Prudhoe Bay, and its pretty much because we can. Driving to the furthest point north you can drive in North America is pretty awesome to me.
Driving back to Fairbanks was pretty uneventful; the roads had dried out, and we were able to go much faster. We arrived back in Fairbanks much dirtier, the trucks covered in mud and rocks. I think we spent about $20 each at the carwash, and I still needed more washing a few days later due to the mud in my wheels throwing them out of balance. At this point, Rob had to go back to California, and my brother met back up with the rest of my family (he was tired of the roof top tent). I spent a few days in Fairbanks, exploring the area, doing some maintenance on the truck, and waiting for my girlfriend, Stephanie, to land on September 20.
After her arrival, we went south heading towards Denali National Park via the Denali Highway. We had planned to camp on the Denali Highway, but it was pouring rain the entire way, so we continued to drive to reach Denali National Park. Sometimes weather just doesn’t work out, and you miss out on destinations along the way.
We decided to go out to the Kenai Peninsula, I’ve heard a lot of good things about the area, and we wanted to go out and explore it. Our first stop was the Homer Spit, Alaska. Being able to pull up on the beach and set up camp was great and we ended up staying here for a few days.
Our next stop was more inland near Cooper Landing; we set up camp on the side of the Kenai River. We wanted to spend a day out hiking so we went up to the Russian River Falls. It was an easy hike, but the views were what made it fun. We ended up stopping at the falls and watched the salmon jump upstream trying to make it above the falls.
Since we had to be home on October 10, we started to drive a few more miles every day. We made it to Glennallen which isn’t a big destination, but we knew we would be far enough away from the city lights to see the northern lights clearly. We set up camp, made dinner, and waited for the show to start.
Knowing we had to make it pretty far that day, we got up early and drove on, trying to make it to Whitehorse. An hour or so after crossing the border we noticed a car pulled off to the side of the road with a huge lens hanging out the side, and when you see that, it’s time to pull over and see what’s up. Once we stopped, we realized there was a grizzly bear about 20 yards away from the road. Needless to say, we got some awesome shots. If you have the chance, spend the night at a hot springs campground—being able to wake up bright and early and hop in the springs gets your day started the right way. We spent the night at Takhini Hot Springs, just outside of Whitehorse.
Today was a long day as we wanted to make it to Hyder, Alaska. Not much happened along the drive until we got to Hyder. Once we arrived, we went straight up to the Salmon Glacier. It’s pretty awesome since you drive along the glacier as it wraps through the valley floor. On the way down we ran into our second bear, another grizzly that was down by the creek eating a salmon. This one was not happy we had stopped; it was showing its teeth and growling, so we got our photos and hit the road.
One of the best things you can do while out on a trip is to talk to the locals. We were filling the gas tank just outside of Clinton, British Columbia, and I started talking to someone. He had mentioned how there was a trail that went around the back side of Highway 99 and dropped you back into Lillooet. We decided to give it a whirl, and it was so worth it. The trail wasn’t very challenging, just a long dirt road, but the views were amazing, winding through the mountains past huge farms.
When you’re away from major cities for so long, it feels weird when you have to drive through one, which is how it was passing through Vancouver. Being so close to the lower 48 we pushed on, trying to make it into Washington for the night. We ended up stopping in Dosewallips State Park after visiting the Vance Creek Bridge, a place I’ve wanted to shoot photos of for a long time.
The next few days were a blur. We drove long days to make it to Bend, Oregon, where Steph had a few friends she wanted to see. Driving along the 101 there were so many places I wanted to stop and take photos, but knowing we were running out of time I kept going. I did manage to get a few photos in though. I will definitely be coming back to the Pacific Northwest to shoot more and explore.
We made it to Bend, the last stop of the trip before we bombarded down the 5 Highway all the way to San Diego. Spending a few days in Bend was much needed—there are great breweries, awesome hikes, and one of a kind landscapes. The only hike we had time to do was up to Tumalo Falls, just outside of Bend. If you’re in the area, I highly suggest you go and do the short hike, and look for a smaller trail that takes you to the base of the falls.
With just under 1,000 miles to go, we wanted to make it to San Diego, so I drove a few long days, and it was finished. After 11,769 miles, 43 days, one busted rear differential, a broken windshield, I ended up with an insane amount of memories that will last a lifetime. The trip was something special, and I’d never been on a trip for that long. Some of the views will be with me forever, even without taking a photo I’ll remember them. Thanks to everyone that made it happen, and to everyone I met along the way. It’s time to start planning the next trip, south to Baja.