Driving Denali

Was it over a year ago now?

As part of a trip to celebrate the wedding of two friends, Tara and I packed up the Subaru and our two dogs for a two week road trip up to Anchorage.

It turns out that it’s not uncommon for visitors to be stumped when trying to get a glimpse of Denali. As it was in our case. Clouds hung over the park for the entirety of our trip and rain “forced” us to retreat to some cabins just outside of Denali. Having our two dogs in the car, we really couldn’t do any longer hikes so instead, we settled on a road trip as far as the Denali highway would take us (something like 17 miles). From there, we’d drive through the old Denali highway – 100 miles of unpaved road – before arriving to the beautiful Caribou Cabins in Tok, AK.

When you are driving through the park, it could be very easy to miss the wildlife while you are scanning the skyline for a glimpse of the mountain. Luckily, the road is narrow and the tour buses plenty. Whenever Tara and I pulled up to a bus on the side of the road, we knew there would be good wildlife to be seen. In our case, numerous stops revealed caribou and moose – big ones, at that. I’ve always wanted to hit the back country in Denali and if the scenery along side the road was any indication, it would be a wild vista of tundra, streams, and bugs, all framed by the giant skyline of mountains.

After Denali, faced with the reality of having two dogs and a week to get home, we decided to make it an epic road trip home. From Denali, we would head due southeast to Jasper and Banff before dropping into Glacier and then west to Seattle. First though, was just the matter of 100 miles of the unpaved wilderness of the old Denali Highway.

It was a long drive and wet. And it wasn’t without its share of adventure – about half way through, we blew a tire. Luckily – very, very luckily, we had just driven by a sign advertising tire repair. With air quickly leaking out of the tire, we reversed and found ourselves at the Maclaren River Lodge. Dripping wet and desperate, I made my way inside and introduced myself to Susie, explaining our predicament. She motioned to Alan, who was on the phone. I hate to get you wet, I explained, but I need help with a tire.

“Well,” Alan replied, “You’ll need to wait – I have to go rescue a guy on the river who backed his trailer into the river.”

And sure enough, Alan walked down to the river, whistled his two dogs into his flat bottom boat, and pushed upstream against the flow of the huge Maclaren river. It would be four hours and a couple warm meals later before our tire was finally fixed.

So instead of a seven hour drive to Tok, it took the better part of 11 hours. In Tok, we met Kris and Carrie, proprietors of the caribou cabins and former Bostonians who had come to Alaska years ago and never left.

Sadly, they informed that the only cabins left were jacuzzi cabins.

That’ll do, Tok. That’ll do.

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