September 2017 was the best month of my life so far. I almost feel bad saying that because I have been lucky enough to take so many great trips in my life, and vacations with my immediate family have always been my most special times. But in terms of really exploring and adventuring, I've never been on a trip like our drive to Alaska and back, and I can only hope that I ever will again.
So now that I've recapped each stop of our trip (see all of my Alaska trip posts here), I want to share some thoughts about what we loved, what we would do differently, and what we took away from the wildest experience we've ever had. And, I thought it would be fun to share some "stats" from the trip and other random things.
Ever since I've known Grace, she has a tradition of asking "rose, bud, and thorn?" at the end of a day, or of a trip, or of a year, etc. For those who've never heard of this, it's basically a conversation starter where you ask what the person considers the rose (best part), bud (something you're looking forward to), and thorn (low point) of a particular time. Throughout the trip, we would check in with each other and ask "rose, bud, and thorn?" of the trip so far. In a whole month of exploring the most beautiful places I've ever seen, getting engaged, and spending so much quality time with each other and our pup Willie, we REALLY could not choose just one rose for the trip. But, in case you're curious, here were a few of our roses, buds, and thorns (not many) from our month of driving to Alaska and back.
Roses: getting engaged (of course!), going to the Bubbly Mermaid champagne and oyster bar in Anchorage, our date night in Vancouver, our glamping trip in Telkwa, seeing Lake Louise and the Canadian rockies, sleeping in the sweetest rustic cabin in the Yukon, the fish & chips at Fast Eddy's restaurant in Tok, Alaska, our cozy night in Whitehorse, Yukon, Fire Island Bakery in Anchorage, and overall, as cheesy as it may sound, the time we spent together. There were some mornings when we set out for a 6 hour drive, podcasts downloaded and playlists ready, and then we would arrive 6 hours later realizing we never listened to any podcasts or music because we just talked the entire drive. We love talking about anything and everything. After Grace proposed, we had even more to talk about because we started doing some dreaming and planning for our wedding. I'm really glad we had hours in the car to discuss every aspect of that, because now that we're back in LA I feel like we are already on the same exact page with wedding planning and our vision for that day.
Buds: mainly, starting a whole new season of life in LA. I started a new job, we are in the thick of planning and finding a place and date to get married, and lots more. We are also so excited to go back to some of our favorite places in Canada and Alaska one day.
Thorns: There weren't any huge thorns at all from our trip, and I am so so thankful. I was pretty nervous during a lot of our drives that we would have car trouble and be stuck out in the wilderness, but we were lucky and that never happened. We did however get a chip in Grace's windshield that turned into a huge crack, resulting in the windshield needing to be replaced. But after driving 7,300 miles through the wildest parts of the continent, I consider that we pretty much came out unscathed. The one other thorn I can think of is that I got sick at the end of the trip. Just a cold, no big deal, but I hate getting sick on vacation.
If you've read my post on packing for Alaska, you might be wondering whether my packing list ended up working. Mostly yes! I was super glad I did a capsule wardrobe for the trip and I was happy with my options for clothes every day. There were a few things I wish we'd packed, though, and a few things I brought but didn't use. Here's a breakdown:
Things I Wish We'd Had: Dry shampoo (sometimes showers were hard to come by), extra phone charger (we lost one and then had one break, so having backups would have been nice), more long sleeved layering options, and more cold weather clothing in general. When I packed for the trip, we were going through a 100 degree heat wave in LA, and I think mentally that made me pack less cold-weather gear. But, it was COLD in Alaska. 28 degrees at one point! We were fine, but I kind of got sick of the same coat every day, so I wish I'd brought more options for cold weather. If you happen to be planning a trip to Alaska in September, know that there likely won't be snow on the ground but it does get chilly.
Things I Packed But Didn't Use: Multiple pairs of sandals (this goes with the cold weather thing), and an umbrella. It did rain, but I just opted for a raincoat with a hood instead of juggling an umbrella and our bags and Willie's leash. It just didn't make sense to use one. I used pretty much everything else we packed, though.
Things We Were Especially Glad We Had: A warm coat and raincoat for Willie, a laptop (we debated whether to bring one and I'm really glad we did), a couple of blankets, our own pillows, and Canadian dollars. I cannot tell you how glad I was to have a few hundred Canadian dollars in cash with us before we even crossed the border. It really came in handy! I carried more US cash than I normally do, too, and I liked having that. It's just convenient for travel sometimes to have cash.
Another thing I've mulled over since getting back is what we learned. I did SO much research before the trip, but I knew that I wouldn't really have any idea what it would be like until we did the drive ourselves. Here are a few things that I learned and things that surprised me.
Finding gas was not a problem. I worried so much about this before our trip. I'd read that you can go for hundreds of miles without passing a gas station, that many go out of business, and that they don't keep regular hours. We had absolutely no problem consistently finding places to fill up the tank, so I never actually worried about that for a second on the trip.
The Alaska Highway is the wildest place I can imagine. I truly feel like the Alaska Highway is a glimpse of heaven on earth, in the sense that the vastness, beauty, and proportions of the Yukon and Alaska just blow everything else out of the water and ruin your sense of proportion and scale. I've never seen anything so shockingly wild and beautiful in my life. I was not expecting that and can never forget it now.
We got tired of camping. As people who love camping, I'm embarrassed to say this, but we chickened out of camping a few cold and/or rainy nights and ended up renting a hotel room or cabin at the last minute. Even though I'm glad I can say we camped in a tent in Alaska for one night, I'm not sad that we didn't do it more. We quickly learned with the long days on the road that we needed to be comfortable in the evenings. If the weather is nice, I can be totally comfortable in a tent. But where the weather got bad, being warm and comfortable became our priority, more so than having the "authentic" experience of camping.
While we felt like the only people on earth for a lot of our trip, we found comfort in knowing how many others have gone before us. We saw/interacted with other people pretty rarely on our trip, which was a cool and different experience given that we live in a huge city. That said, we saw evidence everywhere of other travelers who had done the same trek. The Signpost Forest in Watson Lake (read my post recapping Watson Lake here) was the perfect example of that, because we saw signs up from people on their Honeymoons or people who had come back almost every year to write their names and the date on their sign again. Along the Alaska Highway, people would often spell out their initials with white rocks, which was a fun wilderness version of graffiti to see. And, I know a couple of people personally who have done the trip, so it was fun to connect with them about all the places we saw. If you're reading this and interested in driving the Alaska Highway and getting to the 49th state by road, I HIGHLY recommend it and would love to help in any way I can. Feel free to Contact me.
Last but not least, here are some fun stats from our trip:
Temperature range (in Fahrenheit): 113 degrees in Nevada to 28 degrees in Alaska
Wildest weather: Hail
Wildlife we saw: Buffalo, antelope, coyote, bear, moose, small things like squirrels and groundhogs, bald eagles, loons and other interesting birds, reindeer/caribou, elk, regular deer, swans, and tons of livestock on farms along the roads like cows, horses, and llamas.
Favorite albums we listened to (for the most part on the trip we listened to full albums at a time rather than playlists, just so we could really get into a particular favorite musician and see the full album for what it is): Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits, Emotion by Carly Rae Jepson, Miley Cyrus's new album Younger Now, Rumors by Fleetwood Mac, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves, Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey, and Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons.
Favorite Podcasts: S-Town (I know it's been out for awhile but we hadn't listened to it before the trip. If you haven't, I highly recommend it), Generation Why, Lore, Up and Vanished, Someone Knows Something, and What's the Tee with RuPaul and Michelle Visage.
Place We Most Want to Go Back Right Now, If We Had to Pick One: Me--Anchorage; Grace--Anchorage (I made Grace pick without telling her what I chose, and I picked the same one! Grace says her second choice would be Telkwa, and my second choice would probably be Banff/Lake Louise).
That's it for now in terms of recaps of our trip! I hope you enjoyed reading the series. I loved writing about it and going back to all these amazing places in my mind. Time to start planning the next one :)